Burak Bekdil on Child Marriages in Turkey

Burak Bekdil

My friend Burak Bekdil, a Turkish journalist who writes biweekly in the daily Hürriyet, wrote an article about child marriages, an issue that haunts classes of a certain educational background and religious affiliation in his country, Turkey. Burak kindly offered his article to the present website for uploading, presented here in its complete version.


A comment-less chronology of “our spiritual values”

(the complete version of this Hürriyet article)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


2009: Huseyin Uzmez, a columnist for the Islamist daily Vakit, was convicted and imprisoned on charges of having sex with a 14-year-old girl, but was released from prison after a court suspended his 13-year sentence. After his release, Mr. Uzmez defended the Islamic rules that he said permit girls to wed under the legal age of 16. Justifying sex with a 14-year-old girl, the 78-year-old Mr. Uzmez said, “A girl who has reached puberty, who is having periods, is of age according to our (religious) belief.”

Saudi courts declined to nullify a marriage between a 6-year-old girl and a 58-year-old man. Later, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheik, insisted that girls are ready for marriage by age 10 or 12. “Good upbringing,” the mufti reasoned, “makes a girl ready to perform all marital duties.”

2010: Turkey was shaken by the surfacing of alleged serial rapes in Siirt, including cases of adults raping minors and minors raping toddlers, and killing one. The mayor of the same town said: “This is a small town and almost everyone is related to everyone. We've closed the case after consultations with the governor, the police and the prosecutor.” And a cabinet minister criticized the media for reporting rapes “that had occurred a year ago.”

A few days later, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wife, Emine Erdogan, a local from Siirt, told an audience of dignitaries in Brussels: “In our culture and civilization, which has a great historical background, family and motherhood are sacred.”

Pew research found that 16 percent of Turks think death by stoning should be the appropriate sentence for adultery.

2011: The government-controlled broadcast watchdog RTUK fined a TV channel for “pairing a 15-year-old girl with a 45 year-old man in a matchmaking show.” RTUK said that the show had broadcast an example of child abuse by fixing a marriage between an underage girl and an adult. The watchdog also noted that the show had violated the regulation that states “broadcasts must not be against society's national and spiritual values and the Turkish family structure.”

2013: Researchers from Gaziantep University found that almost 40 percent of marriages in Turkey are child marriages. The literacy rate of child brides is just 18 percent. A Turkish scholar pointed out that Interior Ministry figures pinpoint the number of girls under 18 who married over the past three years at 134,629, while in 2012 only 20,000 families applied to the courts for permission for their under-16 year old daughters to get married.

2014: Kader Erten, a girl who was forced to marry at the age of 12, gave birth to two children, was found dead of gunshot wounds in unclear circumstances. Aysenur Islam, recently-appointed minister for family and social policy, said, upon Kader’s death, that the legal age for marriage in Turkey was 18. Marriage involving a minor below the age of 15 constituted sexual crime and child abuse. However, she explained, most underage marriages were “innocently-motivated” since “a mother who had married at young age thought her daughter, too, could marry at young age.”

The First Lady: President Abdullah Gul’s official web page describes the First Lady as: “[Madame] Hayrunisa Gul believes that women have an important role in shaping the family, and thus, society; and she supports activities carried out to strengthen women and family. According to the web page, Madame Gul married President Gul in 1980.

Wikipedia: According to Wikipedia, “As First Lady of Turkey Madame Gul has initiated many social reforms through projects aimed at addressing issues such as education, health and women's rights. On October 7, 2010, Madame Gul became the first First Lady to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on issues faced by children and women.”

Also according to Wikipedia, she married President Gul on Aug. 20, 1980, “when she was 15 and he was 30.”

RTUK was right. Pairing a 15-year-old girl with an elderly man in a marriage show on TV is really against the Turkish society's national and spiritual values and the Turkish family structure.

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