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Child brides in Turkey

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Even though Turkey raised the minimum age of marriage to 17 years of age in 2007, the country currently has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe.

Although the legal age is 17, under a legal provision for “exceptional circumstances” a family can apply for the consent of the courts to legally marry off a child who is younger than the established legal age.

However, what is considered an “exceptional circumstance” is rather vague. Although Turkey already has laws in place to protect children, countless young underage girls are married off by their families each year.

Child marriage is not just a family issue -- it is a human rights violation and it needs to be addressed as such with the legal circles in Turkey. In 2011, Turkey signed the Council of Europe convention aimed at combating violence against women, which includes enacting laws that view child marriage as a crime.

Even though Turkey is a signatory to the agreement, the rate of child marriages in the country continues to climb each year.

Even though families may be aware of the laws regarding marriage, many prefer to avoid those legalities by marrying their children off in religious ceremonies, which are often not reported to the authorities.

Therefore, it is difficult to find an accurate account of child brides in Turkey. According to reports, there are an estimated 180,000 child brides in the country. However, this statistic does not reflect the unknown number of religious marriages that are not legal or reported to the state.

Some reports place the actual figure as high as one-third of all marriages in Turkey involving at least one partner who is below the legal age of consent.

One has to wonder just how the number of illegal and underage marriages has been allowed to become such a problem across Turkey. Families, as well as their local communities, tend to turn a blind eye to these unions, preferring to ignore the problem or simply pass it off as a matter that should only be dealt with in private by the family.

Child brides in Turkey

For many young girls, from birth onwards they are told outright or through subtle messages from society that they will always be under the rule of the males in their lives. They assume that their fathers, brothers, uncles and husbands will decide what they will do and when.

They do not know that they have choices in their lives. Afraid of the anger and wrath of their families if they object, they blindly accept whatever fate their male elders choose for them.

Other young girls find themselves used as a bartering tool or bargaining chip for their family. An unpaid debt may be cancelled, favors may be granted or family ties may be strengthened if underage girls are married off.

This makes the girl nothing more than chattel. They become a mere piece of property that can be bought, sold or traded.

There are also those who are married off at a young age in order to preserve the family honor, although there cannot be any honor in what is, in effect, child abuse.

Under the pretext of saving a girl from unwanted advances or the possibility that she might talk with boys or risk losing her virginity, a family may opt to get rid of any temptation by marrying off their daughters at a young age.

And, of course, there are the families that cannot afford to keep children at home and they see early marriage as a way to relieve themselves of the burden of yet another mouth that needs to be provided for. There is not a single one of these reasons that should ever be viewed as honorable or acceptable in the real world.

There are many severe threats to a girl's health if she is married off at a young age, especially those who are wed before reaching puberty. In addition to the possibility of physical and mental abuse, young girls risk a number of complications during pregnancy and childbirth while they are still teenagers.

In developing countries, these complications are one of the leading causes of death in adolescent girls. It is not just the young girl who is at risk, but any child she bears at a young age also runs the risk of complications during and after birth.

Studies from around the world prove that young girls who are married off at an early age often do not complete or further their education.

Duties expected to be taken care of at home, along with caring for any children born, mean that there is no possibility to attend school or take courses to help them expand their mind and learn new skills.

If unable to finish their formal schooling, the majority of young brides are unable to find work to support themselves if necessary, which leaves them financially dependent on others.

The current mindset towards child marriage needs to change across the country before any concrete steps will be taken in order to end this practice.

Parents as well as local religious leaders must be educated not only about the legal status of underage marriages but also the physical and psychological damage that can be done from being married off at a young age.

Those who agree to marry off their daughters at an early age and those who perform illegal marriages should be forced, with no exceptions, to accept the legal consequences of their actions.

Communities must stop turning a blind eye to this form of child abuse and start speaking out. By depriving a girl of her childhood, her life and her dreams are seen as unimportant. All children deserve an education.

They all deserve the opportunity to have financial stability in their lives. Every child should have the chance to experience a childhood and not be sold, traded or bought as a child bride.

By law, a child cannot be forced into marriage when they are under the legal age of consent. However, too many have winked and looked the other way for too long as young girls were sent off to new homes as the “gelin” or young bride.

This attitude must change if women are ever to take their rightful place in Turkish society. Anything less is an insult to all women. SOURCE

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