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New Marriage Law in Turkey May Result in More Child Marriages

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, signed legislation earlier this month allowing Islamic muftis – Muslim clerics – to conduct civil marriage ceremonies in the same manner as judges, according to The Telegraph.

Couples previously were married by a civil authority, but a religious Imam could also perform the religious ceremony. The new law allows couples to disregard the secular authority and opt solely for the religious ceremony.

The Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) oppose the new legislation. Critics disapprove of the new law because it may increase underage marriages due to religious traditions and disregard founding values of the constitutionally-secular Turkish republic.

“This paves the way for child brides because according to Islam, there is no age limit, a girl who has reached puberty can get married,” CHP Deputy Chairman Ozgur Ozel told Reuters.

About 15 percent of children in Turkey are married by the age of 18; however, this statistic does not accurately represent the true number of underage marriages because most child marriages are unregistered.

Growing Up Married, a documentary released in 2016, tells the stories of four women who were child brides. The director and filmographer, Eylem Atakav – a senior lecturer in film and television studies at the University of East Anglia’s School of Art, Media and American Studies in the U.K. – described how she first interviewed two of her parents’ neighbors for the documentary. During these interviews, three other women asked to share their experiences. After interviewing these women, the vast amount of child marriages in Turkey surprised Atakav.

“I was surprised to find how invisible and silent – yet common – this experience was,” Atakav said. “It was a truly eye-opening moment that signalled the women’s urgent need to speak out and the importance of recording their experiences.”

Hurriyet Daily News reports that a girl known as Derya B. was married at age 14 and died giving birth as a 15-year-old after she suffered a brain hemorrhage while in intensive care. M.D. Aydan Biri, a gynecology expert, believes the child died due to incomplete physical development, which makes childbirth dangerous for young women.

“The pregnancies of children who have not completed their physical development and whose organs have not yet completely developed often end in death,” Biri said.

Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights and mainly affects young girls, UNICEF states. There are many reasons child marriages occur. One reason is poverty – for many, child marriage will provide protection, family honor, and social norms, and there are customary or religious laws that support the practice. There is also, unfortunately, inadequate legislation and a poor regulation of the country’s civil registration system. Child marriages also drastically affect the lives of the young girls, where the marriages often result in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupt their educational process, limit their career opportunities, and increase the risk of domestic violence.

Women’s groups have protested this new law because it promotes gender inequality, perpetuates violence, and violates women’s rights.

“What women in Turkey need are not muftis registering marriages. The needs and demands of women are not draft laws that would victimize women more today,” HDP Adana lawmaker Meral Danış Beştaş said.

This new law opens the door for the violation of young Turkish women’s rights. Hopefully, the protests from several women’s activist groups could cause the Turkish Parliament to reverse this law and decrease the country’s amount of child brides.

Featured Image by Presidencia de la República Mexicana on Flickr

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