Megi, 16, taking care of her newborn baby in the house she shares with her husband and parents-in-law. Batumi, Adjara region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

A bridal shop in the town of Marneuli. (Myriam Meloni)

Although the legal age of marriage in the country of Georgia in the Caucasus is 18, there is a long-standing tradition of girls marrying before then. The United Nations Population Fund has estimated that at least 17 percent of girls there get married before the age of 18. There are many reasons that these marriages still take place, including long-standing tradition, the will of the girl’s parents and even kidnapping by a suitor.

Italian photographer Myriam Meloni, along with journalist Elena Ledda, took a journey to Georgia to meet some of these child brides. There, they encountered girls like Samaia, engaged at 16 to a man she had only seen once in her life. After marriage, many of these girls stop going to school because it is thought that education isn’t needed for someone whose primary duties in life include bearing children and keeping house.

Georgia is trying to comply with human rights protection requirements from the European Union by abolishing provisions that allow child marriage. Until recently, there was a provision that allowed such marriages in “special circumstances” with the consent of a court. That was struck down in January. But tradition is strong in this country where having romantic relationships before marriage is taboo and traditional gender roles still reign supreme. So the marriages continue.

Tamuna performs a traditional Georgian dance in her family’s home. Her in-laws prohibited her from dancing. She fled her husband and returned to her family’s home. She pressed charges against her husband for mistreating her and she hopes to get some money to help her live decently. Kvemo Kartli region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

A sanctuary where women come to express their desire to get pregnant. Imereti region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

Ia with her child. She got married at 17. Siktarva, Imereti region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

Eggs. The young brides are supposed to have their first child within the first years of marriage. Siktarva, Imereti region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

Megi, 16, with her husband. She got married when she was 15, after talking with her future husband via chat for three months. Batumi, Adjara region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

Child marriage is a gendered phenomenon that affects girls and boys in different ways. Overall, the number of boys in child marriages around the world is significantly lower than that of girls. The existing data in Georgia, shows that up to 17 percent of Georgian women were married before the age of 18. (Myriam Meloni)

A young girl hides behind hanging blankets. Kikhani, Kvemo Kartli region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

Bows decorate the entrance of a house. According to tradition, the pink or red bows indicate that in that house lives a newly engaged girl. Iormughanlo, Kakheti region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

Maca, 17, got married at 16, is mother of a 6-month-old child and is now once again pregnant. Like most of the young brides, she became pregnant immediately after getting married. Pankisi Gorge, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

Pumpkins in Naila’s home. Naila is now 21 years old: she got married at 16 and is the mother of a 5-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. (Myriam Meloni)

Megi, 16, preparing tea. She had her first child at the age of 15. Batumi, Adjara region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

Video of Ia’s marriage. She got married when she was 17 years old. (Myriam Meloni)

Women pray in Orthodox church. Kakheti region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

A carpet edged with a portrait of a married couple. Kakheti region, Georgia,. (Myriam Meloni)

Samaia, 17. She got engaged when she was 16 to a man she met once. Kakheti region, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

An empty classroom in the village of Dzevri. One of the consequences of early marriage is that many girls drop out of school. (Myriam Meloni)

Girls playing in the patio of a school in the Azeri village of Iormuganlo. (Myriam Meloni)

Madina got married at 16. Pankisi Gorge, Georgia. (Myriam Meloni)

More In Sight:

‘I buried my negatives in the ground in order that there should be some record of our tragedy.’ The photographs of Henryk Ross.

Decades of yearly portraits show how power has transformed Angela Merkel

We all grieve for lost loved ones. Here’s how one photographer dealt with it in his own way.