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 combatting 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. 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,...