The father of a newborn girl has been sentenced to three years in prison for having sexual relations with his underage wife, who is the mother of his newborn daughter.
A modern-day Romeo and Juliet, 19-year-old Zhenya and 15-year-old Katya, still a schoolgirl, live in the provincial town of Efremov approximately 310 kilometers off Moscow, Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets reports. They had known each other for about a year and a half when last summer Katya learnt she was four months pregnant. At the time Zhenya had no idea that Katya had in fact lied about her age and told Zhenya she was 17.
“When we met I told Zhenya I was almost 17. In fact I was two years younger. I lied because I liked him very much, but I was afraid he wouldn't go out with me if I told him my real age. He only found out after I got pregnant,” Katya says.
The girl’s mother recalls that the news was a shock for her:
“I knew she was dating Zhenya but did not think they had intimate relations,” she told journalists.
When the lovers’ parents met to discuss the situation, Katya and Zhenya told them that they loved each other and wanted to live together and bring up their child.
Soon, Katya’s parents obtained permission for the marriage of their underage daughter, which took place in January 17 this year. Two weeks later Katya gave birth to little Ksenia, who was born two months premature.
Relatives say Zhenya was looking forward to the birth of his daughter and was very anxious during the delivery.
The young family settled in Zhenya’s one-bedroom apartment. He found a job as a welder while his wife resumed her studies at school. Relatives of the newborn took care of her while the teenage mother was out, but what seemed to be a happy end to the love story was only the beginning of an ordeal.
Police contacted Zhenya, informing him that he was charged with having sexual relations with a person under the age of 16. The court then sentenced him to three years and one month in jail.
“After the hearing Zhenya left the courtroom and looked at his daughter for a long time, caressing her cheek. All the family was crying,” the relatives said. “He loves little Ksenia so much. What is his fault? They made love because they both wanted to. The judge has broken the life of the family.”
Zhenya is now in custody in the nearby town of Novomoskovsk. His wife comes to visit him almost every day.
Katya can't breast feed the baby anymore due to stress. She also has to miss outs on school lessons, because Zhenya used to babysit while she was studying.
Zhenya is not allowed to see his wife, let alone his daughter. If the family loses the appeal, the young father would not only miss his baby's first steps and words, but also in three years time will become a total stranger to his little girl.
Discrepancy between law and life
Russian law, simply put, states that you can marry an underage person with the permission of the parents, but you cannot have sex with this person.
Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Moscow Aleksey Golovan has admitted that there is a discrepancy between the Family Code and the Criminal Code.
“On the one hand, the girl was allowed to get married. On the other hand, law forbids sexual relations with a person under 16,” he said, adding “In this particular case, special circumstances should have been taken into account.”
The family believes the young couple did not receive proper legal protection.
“The public defence attorney we had lied to us. She said he has to admit his guilt and then nothing will happen to him. So he did and they put him in jail. She did nothing to protect our interests. We found a new lawyer and appealed,” says Katya’s mother Elena Karpova.
Boris Altshuler is a children's rights expert and says cases like this one should be inspected on an individual basis, rather than simply following the law. He says the prosecutors used this case heartlessly for their own interests. For prosecutors it’s just a good report for their chiefs – they did a good job and have exposed a crime.