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“Stand up to child marriages, raise your voice and scream that they are still a child’’

19 October 2017

19 October 2017, Diyarbakır - An awareness raising panel in the series of “Child Marriages Awareness Panels” targeting this time male refugees was held on October 19, 2017 in Diyarbakır. The panel’s concept was developed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and was organized in cooperation with the Community Volunteers Foundation and KAMER Foundaiton the implementing partners of UNFPA Turkey.

These series of panels aim to raise awareness and draw attention to child marriages, a serious human rights violation against children, also a widespread phenomenon and a significant problem among refugee families that seek assistance in Turkey. In the panel, participants held presentations with the themes Physical, Psychological and Social Dimensions of Childhood Marriages; Legal Status and Obligations in Early Age Marriages in Turkey? and Child Marriages from the Islamic Perspective.  

The Child Marriage Awareness Panel that was organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in cooperation with its implementing partners of KAMER Foundation and Community Volunteers Foundation was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration operating under the US Department of State (BPMR). The panel in Diyarbakır hosted 160 refugee men who wanted to learn more about the issue.  

Hayriye Ahçıoğlu, KAMER Foundation’s Diyarbakır Coordinator, delivered the opening speech in the event. Giving information about the projects done by KAMER, she said: “Within this project implemented with the support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), we provide support and services to refugee women in Sexual Health/Productive Health and Gender-based Violence. We carry out several projects to psychosocially support and empower these women. Besides these services, we guide the women who have health problems and refer them to the related units, engaging also a service provider who accompanies them.” Underlining that they, as KAMER Foundation, would continue to support the projects and activities aiming to create awareness against child marriages, she further said: “The figures clearly demonstrate the scope and importance of our activities: Accordingly, while about 12.500 women have contacted our centres to seek assistance, we have provided training to 4000 women on sexual and productive health. Every week, we hold several meetings in our centre to educate the attendees so that they can easily integrate into the Turkish society. For example, we invite dentists or lawyers to educate and train the participants in oral and dental hygiene and legal matters. Furthermore, we also have other programmes focusing especially on social activities; for instance, for our beneficiaries we organize excursions to landmarks in Diyarbakır.”  

Jülide Erdoğan, General Manager of the Community Volunteers Foundation, said: “For 15 years now, the foundation has been actively serving our society led and guided by young people and senior citizens hand-in-hand in an effort to establish peace and solidarity and to inspire a process of change. Through our experience in projects with children, we know that child marriages cause serious problems. To women, we provide sexual and productive health services. We also provide psychosocial support to young refugee men and women at our centres. So far 25.000 women and men have benefitted from our services. We also organize events for social integration, intended both for the local people and young refugees”.

In her opening remarks, Gül Erdost, UNFPA Women’s Empowerment Specialist, shared information about Child Marriage Panels which they have held in various cities to date. Requesting the participants to disseminate what they have learnt in the panel with other people in their social circle, she said: “We know that child marriage is a widespread practice, and we take pride that we can underline the seriousness of this problem through these panels aiming to create awareness about the issue. Women automatically spring to mind when it comes to child marriages. But because men are the decision-makers in some communities, it is of great importance that men are included in such projects. Similarly, we always tend to think of girls when we talk about child marriages, but this serious problem equally causes severe suffering and damage on boys who are married in early age. Girls and boys alike are forced to get married in an age they are not ready for marriage yet, with severe sociological, psychological and biological consequences’’.

Faysal Yaşa, Director of the Provincial Office for Family and Social Policies, also held a speech during the event. He said: “During the Minister of Family and Social Policies Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya’s visit to our office in Diyarbakır, specially requested us to intensify our efforts to raise awareness against child marriages and to prevent this serious problem that paves the way to violence. As a result, we have designed an activity plan in Diyarbakır, including 20 governmental agencies. In this sense, we initiated our activities with special focus on training programmes intended to raise awareness among the personnel of each agency. In this context, we have given training to the staff of the Police Department, imams and mukhtars in an effort to make them know about this delicate problem.” Underlining that they, as the provincial office responsible for family and social policies, provide the coordination between governmental agencies, Yaşa further said that these activities intended to raise consciousness against child marriages, already organized in urban areas, would also be held in the district agencies in the near future.  

In his opening speech, on the other hand, Mehmet Sait Avar, Head of the Provincial Directorate of Health in Diyarbakır, stated that the average marriage age in Turkey is 23. He further said: “We want to prevent child marriages, because early marriage means delivery of a disabled child, stillborn children into this world, also with mothers dying during delivery. We can mention so many examples of these serious consequences, which clearly show how important a healthy relationship between a child and its mother is. Children without a mother or with one not mature and conscious yet can experience health problems from the delivery on and can also be involved in criminal offences in later stages of their life. Children married at early age get insufficient nutrition during the pregnancy, in which cases caesarean delivery would be unavoidable.”

Avar also talked about the services his office provides: “As our esteemed guests, you will receive every possible service in the time you are cared for in our country. Soon we will open a Migrant Health Centre in the district of Bağlar. Besides, we will organize a vaccination campaign for our children in our province between 1 -17 November 2017. My sincere request from you: Please have your children vaccinated, highliht its importance and create awareness in your social circle about that.’’

Julide Aral, a psychologist, said in her presentation that “I would like to welcome all of you, you fathers, grand-fathers, uncles and brothers from Syria. The speakers have just underlined that men have the upper hand in decisions about early marriages depending on the social structure. Therefore, it is you, firstly, who must prevent child marriages and all the traumas and serious consequences it drags into the lives of these girls.”

Aral further noted: “Why are we against child marriages? Because it is a violation of human rights, a violation of children’s rights, violating all their rights such as right to live, bodily integrity, mental health, moral rights and right to be protected. Hence, we must not deprive them of their rights and robbing them of their childhood, so that they can enhance their capacities. Think of the reasons why you have come to Turkey. You have come here to flee the dangers of war, to protect your right to live, your right to feel safe. Protecting our children from early marriage is also a similar effort. Girls suffer more from violence in the family. Boys, on the other hand, are rather exposed to pressure, mainly on the basis of their so-called manhood, for example the pressure to earn daily bread for their family. How can a child under 18 years of age earn a living for his family, let alone setting up a family? This is a type of violence directed against men as well. Having all these in mind, I hope this panel will inspire you to change your opinions and create awareness in your social circle.”

After the opening speeches, Barış Yavuz, lawyer from the Bar Association of Diyarbakır and also serving as a lawyer in the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, made a presentation in the panel with the title “Legal Status and Obligations in Early Age Marriages in Turkey?”. He said: “You are all very valuable. Why? Because you are all human beings; in fact this applies to all of us: we are valuable, because we are humans. It is our duty, as attorneys, to create this value, to protect and to defend it. All the rights, legislations and enforcing rules in this country bind me as a citizen of the Republic of Turkey; this also applies to all of you. You may not be citizens of Turkey, but the laws in our country apply to you all, binding you during your stay in Turkey”.

Informing the participants about the related laws in Turkey, Attorney Yavuz further said: “Two factors are of great importance in respect to marriage in our country: The first one is age, and the second one is the power of discernment. In other words the person must have completed 18 years of age. However, being over 18 years of age may also not be sufficient; the person must also be in good mental health. What happens if we do not comply with these rules? Legal sanctions can be imposed on us. This is a direct child sexual abuse case. Put another way, it is an act of rape that is punishable with heavy penal sanctions. Imprisonment until 15 years can even be imposed on perpetrators of such acts. These penal sanctions do not only apply to the persons who get married; they also bind the families in the same way. The family also offends a crime in such a case, and family members can be punished as well. The family is an important institution, the smallest unit that is of great significance for development and well-being in a society. If we bring a child into this world, we must also assume all the responsibilities of that child. This is an international law.’’

Dr. Gökhan Yıldırımkaya, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Reproductive Health Programme Coordinator also made a presentation in the panel. He said: “Here today we shall speak about the children, cousins, brothers and sisters of all the men participating in this event as fathers, grandfathers, spouses and brothers. Sometimes, we can unintentionally inflict damage on our beloved ones. As the director of the Provincial Health Office has just underlined in his speech, early marriage means death. All in all, we are 7.7 billion people living in this world. All over the world, every individual under 18 years of age is deemed to be a child, and they are the ones who are at most affected in armed conflicts. It is an accepted fact all across the globe. Development of a child is deemed to have been completed only when s/he has reached 18 years of age. Marriage in child age is a violation of human rights in all the systems all across the world. A violation of human rights occurs when an individual is deprived of his/her right of life, that of travel and education, and also when the person is displaced.’’

Informing the participants about the maturing process of children, Dr. Yıldırımkaya further said: “The World Health Organization and physicians all over world generally accept that girls and boys must have completed 20 years of age to be considered as mature individuals. In adolescence age children develop a great interest in respect of exploring their environment and their social environment. It can be a difficult time for the family, where young people must be approached with love and tolerance. They can be especially interested in sexual matters and in the body of the opposite sex. This is a natural process; it must not be interpreted as a desire to get married. A young woman from Syria told me her story. She said: ‘’I was 15 years of age. My family told me that we would go to the park. I thought I would go there to play; I was very pleased. However, we did not go to the park; we went to a house, from where I could never return to my home again.” That is what she said. She was forced to marry when she was 15 years of age and bore a child at that age. When her baby cried, she also cried. She was in such a desperate situation.’’  

Specially underlining the problems arising from child marriages, Dr. Yıldırımkaya further said: “Child marriages causes many diseases, because you let an immature individual to get married. Boys also suffer under such marriages: they have to assume responsibilities without having been sufficiently socialized, and consequently they commit violence against women, family, children, a picture that demonstrates itself with increased divorce rates. I would like you to keep especially two points in mind after this panel: First, a pregnancy before 18 years of age poses serious risks both for the infant and the mother, which can also lead to mortality. Of women who marry in early age, 70 thousand die every year across the world. In a previous panel the Directorate of Health shared a case with us: It is the case of a woman of 36 years of age who died as she gave birth to her 10th child. She was married at the age of 15. People have to suffer serious traumas; we should prevent this. All over the world children forced to get married at early age are exposed to more violence. Besides, apart from mortal consequences, women suffer from several diseases three times as much as the others. It also poses several risks for children, ranging from development and behaviour disorders and involvement in criminal acts to losing interest in breastfeeding, inflammatory diseases and death. I am so glad that you came here, that we got to know each other, that we are neighbours now. As we are proud of you, you should also be proud of your children. Share what you have learnt here with other people. We are not only responsible for our own children, but we carry the burden of responsibility of all the children. Stand up to child marriages, lift up your voice and say that they are still a child. And please don’t forget: protecting our children is a type of worshipping.’’

Associate Prof. Dr. Mehmet Nuri Güler, academic at Harran University’s Faculty of Theology, made a presentation titled as “Child Marriages from the Islamic Perspective.” during the event. Stating that in Islamic law, early marriage is defined as a marriage contract in which one of the parties is a child that has not reached puberty yet, he further said: “There are no verses directly addressing the child marriages. As an individual without legal capacity, a child cannot decide to get married with another child. For this reason, child marriage has never become a matter of discussion in Islamic law. One has to be mature enough to get married. The matter must be no more discussed when one says ‘I do not want to get married’. At that point, nobody has the right to force her or him to get married. It is forbidden to marry an individual in child age; it is unacceptable from the perspective of religion and moral laws’’. Prof. Güler further suggested that the rules in this sense in Islamic law go parallel with the rules introduced in contemporary medical and juridical sciences, and that some Islamic law experts accept that an individual gets mature at the age of 17-18, and some even say that it is at the age 20-25 that a human being gets fully mature.” 

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS)

One in three women in the world marries before the age of 18. Unless essential and effective studies are conducted about child marriages, it is expected that the number of women who marry at a young age will reach 1.2 billion as of 2050. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Turkey Office has been offering capacity development, service provision, reproductive health services and hygiene supplies in women's health and violence against women within the scope of the Humanitarian Aid Program since 2011.

In this respect, Safe Spaces for Women and Girls (WGSS) have started to forge cooperation with various organizations. The centers established in various cities in 2017 with the support from the European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), US Government, Swedish Government and Japanese Government mainly operate in sexual and reproductive health, gender based violence, psycho-social support, empowerment and supply distribution for asylum seeker women and girls.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was established in 1969 and as the biggest aid source with international funding in the area of population operating around the world. UNFPA operates in more than 150 countries for creating policies and strategies that support sustainable development. Having started its activities on a project basis, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been working on reproductive health, encouraging social gender equality, collecting, using and distributing data about development and humanitarian aid in Turkey since 1971. Within this framework, the first Country Program lasted from 1988 to 1992 and now the Sixth Country Program (2016-2020) is being executed.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) works to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled. To this end, UNFPA focuses especially 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); SDG 3: Good health and well-being, SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 5: Gender Equality and finally, SDG 17: Partnerships for Goals

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