The “destiny” of child brides in the peripheries of the world

child marr 545

14 year-old Kader (“Destiny” in Turkish) was found dead on January 12, just a few days after her newborn second child died. With her suspicious death, a social problem common in Turkey and many other countries came under the spotlights once again.

Kader was born in the southeastern “peripheral” city of Siirt. She was registered to be born in 2000, although her family claims she was born in 1997 but registered much later. In any case, she was a “child bride” when she was married 3 years ago.

Her family had made an “arranged marriage deal” (berdel) with another family that meant exchanging brides between the two families. Kader was to marry the son of the other family, and her brother would marry their daughter.

The families claim that Kader and her future husband Mehmet “smiled at each other” when they met for the first time after the arrangement between the families. Their “smile” was read as a sign of consent to get married. And they were soon married with a religious marriage ceremony, which, although not recognized as legal by the state, is common enough in the region.

Just about one year after the marriage Kader had her first child and the next year she was pregnant with her second child. While her husband was doing military service and Kader was living with his family, she gave birth prematurely to her second child. The child was dead 2.5 months later. And soon after, Kader was to be found dead too.

Her in-laws claim that she was depressed after the death of her newborn baby and killed herself with a rifle. But her death seemed suspicious to the prosecutors who started an investigation to find out the truth.

Kader’s case reignited a never ending debate about the child brides in Turkey. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party, submitted questions to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) asking why the government is not instructing the imams (religious leaders), who are regarded as figures of authority in the poor rural areas, not to allow underage marriages.

A research by Gaziantep University (Turkey) showed that the phenomenon of child marriages is much more common than thought. According to the research, 1 in 3 marriages in Turkey is a child marriage, ant the ratio is even higher in the eastern parts of the country. The study also said that 82 percent of the child brides are illiterate.


The beginning of the end in Yemen

// Three young brides 11, 12, and 13, are married to three brothers during a combined ceremony in the rural areas outside Hajjah. © 2011 Stephanie Sinclair/VII

Another country in the headlines all over the world recently was Yemen, where 8 year-old Rawan was said to have died on her wedding night. Wed to a man in his 40s, Rawan is said have died of internal bleeding as a result of her uterus being torn during sexual intercourse. Although Yemeni authorities contradicted the news about Rawan, there are confirmed reports proving the heavy reality on the ground. 13 year-old Ilham died three days after marrying, due to bleeding that was caused by a tear to her genitals. 12 year-old Salwa committed suicide after being forced into marriage by her father. 11 year-old Sarah was imprisoned and chained by her father in an effort to force her into marriage.

Yemeni laws currently don’t define a minimum age of marriage and the country has one of the highest child marriage levels in the world with 52 percent of girls married before age 18.

However there seems to be some change in the air. Yemen has taken a step toward outlawing child marriages. Last month, a national conference of politicians, activists and religious groups released its proposals for a new constitution. They recommended a minimum age for marriage of 18 for both genders.

Belkis Wille, a Human Rights Watch researcher, hailed the move, writing on her Twitter account “The beginning of the end of child marriage in Yemen has come!”


//UNFPA report on child marriage.67 million child brides in the world

The phenomenon, however, is not constricted to Turkey or Yemen, or that part of the world. According to an October 2012 UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) report on child marriage, widespread in many developing countries, child brides number over 67 million worldwide. In some countries, more than half of the girls are married before they turn 18.

UNFPA data shows that:

  • One third of the world’s girls are married before the age of 18, and 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15.
  • In 2010, 67 million women around the world had been married before the age of 18.
  • If present trends continue, 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday over the next decade. That’s an average of 14.2 million girls each year.
  • While countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage are concentrated in Western and Sub-Saharan Africa, due to population size, the largest number of child brides reside in South Asia.

Child marriages most often occur in poor, rural communities, that are in a way the “peripheries of the world”. In many regions, parents arrange their daughter’s marriage unbeknownst to the girl. That can mean that one day, she may be at home playing with her siblings and the next, she’s married off and sent to live in another village with her husband and his family – strangers, essentially. She is pulled out of school, depriving them of an education and meaningful work. She is separated from her peers. And once married, she is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence and suffer health complications associated with early sexual activity and childbearing.

The UNFPA report concludes, “While arguably child marriage does close certain options for boys, the data make it clear that child marriage is first and foremost a threat to girls and, then when realised, a breach of girls’ fundamental human rights. The evidence is clear: for girls, marriage too soon of the too young brings negative impacts on girls’ rights to education and health, to life opportunities and indeed, to life itself. For the sake of the more than 142 million girls at risk of this human rights abuse over the next decade, it is high time to end child marriage.”


Övgü Pınar


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