The Turkish government is preparing a series of measures to combat underage and forced marriages, including a public information campaign and monitoring of children.

Action plan to tackle child marriage

ISTANBUL — The government has established a roadmap to eradicate underage and forced marriages in Turkey, with measures including campaigns against such marriages and tracking of children in those regions where the practice is common.

After months of planning, the Ministries of Interior, Justice, National Education, Health and Youth, as well as the Presidency of Religious Affairs, completed the road map.

According to the road map, the Turkish Penal Code will be amended to criminalize forced marriages of girls under the age of 17.
Girls in forced marriages will be treated as victims of sexual abuse and the husbands will be charged and sentenced.

Currently, underage marriage means children who are married under the age of 15 and it is legally prohibited and regarded as sexual abuse even if a legal complaint is not filed by the girl or others. The amendments will include girls aged 16 and older, particularly those forced by their families to marry their rapists. Thus, the rapists will not be able to escape punishment by marrying their victim, a common practice in some parts of Turkey. The length of a prison term for someone accused of sexual abuse in marriage is typically determined by the complaints of the victim, but this criterion will be lifted under the planned amendments.

Minister of Family and Social Policies Ayşenur İslam said her ministry considered 10 steps to combat underage and forced marriages.
Among them is the registration of all children in the country to a civil register by an overhaul of the registration system. This will enable tracking changes in children’s status and whether they live with their parents.

Another step is establishing social service units at schools to ensure the obligation of 12 years of compulsory education for children.
The units will monitor if there are any children not attending school. These are mostly children who do not attend school or had to drop out once they were married.

The government will also employ female staff from the Presidency of Religious Affairs to raise awareness of the issue. They will be assigned to districts and neighborhoods and make personal visits to every family to inform them about the issue. Local officials and clerics will also invite women to mosques to encourage them against underage and forced marriages.

Similar meetings will also be held with men, either in mosques or in town and village halls. Families will be told that underage marriages constitute a serious offense and will be punished accordingly. İslam said the Presidency of Religious Affairs, also known as the Diyanet, is the major partner in the struggle against child marriage and it had drafted its own roadmap to battle the problem. Religion is an important denominator in Turkish society and clerics will underline that underage marriage is prohibited by Islam. Diyanet officials already issued statements emphasizing that it is forbidden in Islam to get married before girls reach adolescence, that is, at the age of 18. The Ministry of Health will monitor pregnant mothers in underage marriages and their situations will be reported to the Ministry of Family and Social Policies, which will offer assistance and consultation to those mothers.

A large number of girls in underage marriages work as field hands in rural Turkey.
Those girls will be monitored by social service workers who will visit villages. The government will also impose restrictions on TV shows and other related programming on TVs that are deemed to promote underage marriage. A now-complete TV series and an ongoing program that focus on the drama of underage marriage ranked first in the ratings list. Critics claimed that the series, which show young girls marrying much older men, could encourage the practice.

Another planned measure is research on the issue by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. A nationwide survey will be held on the number of underage marriages and other relevant data and it will be repeated regularly to track changes in the trend and address shortcomings in the fight against the phenomenon.

The government also plans to cooperate with nongovernmental organizations to raise awareness on the issue. Organizations conducting projects to prevent underage and forced marriages will be endorsed by the government. In February, the Turkish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee approved an amendment to the Penal Code for prison sentences for child marriages that calls for at least three years in prison for individuals forcing children into marriage through religious wedding ceremonies. Such ceremonies are often used for underage marriages as civil marriages are illegal for underage marriages.

According to statistics by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), 17,648 children below the age of 15 gave birth between 2001 and 2012, 4,312 of who were from southeastern Turkey.
During that period, 1,031 pre-teen mothers gave birth in Diyarbakir, and 940 in Şanlıurfa.

Although the age of consent for marriage was raised to 17, some families force their children to marry by changing their date of birth on official documents or lying about the age of children when applying for identity cards.

This controversial issue made headlines recently when Kader Erten, who was married at the age of 12, was found dead in her home in southeastern Turkey in January.

TurkStat also found that 412,923 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 gave birth in Turkey, 242,836 of who were from southeastern Turkey. Between 2008 and 2012, 695,782 girls between the ages of 16 and 19 were engaged in civil marriages.

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