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In Turkey, 1 out of every 5 women between the ages of 20-49 got married before the age of 18. 1 out of every 3 women who got married before the age of 18 became a mother as a child. With the financial support of the Sabancı Foundation, UNFPA Turkey is working to end child marriages in Nevşehir and Van. 19-year-old Helin is one of the frontline heroes of this struggle. She is now in the field so that all the girls in the area she lives can study like her and make their dreams come true.

Van, TURKEY - “There are a lot of girls who get married at an early age, are not sent to school, and do not have enough information about their own health.” These words belong to Helin, who is only 19 years old herself. 

Helin lives in Karlıyamaç village of Van. She  is a first-year open education high school student. Until 4 months ago, she had been considered to be getting married like her peers living in Karlıyamaç village. Her life has changed after her uncle who is the head of the village, opened a new door for her. She is now working to prevent girls like herself from marrying at an early age.

Through his uncle, Helin has met the Prevention of Child Marriages Project implemented by UNFPA Turkey in cooperation with Yaşam Women, Environment, Culture and Business Cooperative (YAKA-KOOP) and with the financial support of the Sabancı Foundation. She started to work as a health mediator in the project, "even though she wasn't sure she could do it at first".

The Prevention of Child Marriages Project, which was implemented in Nevşehir in 2019 by UNFPA Turkey with the financial support of the Sabancı Foundation, continues to work with its second phase starting in 2021 and now including Van. Within the scope of the project, health mediators selected from the project provinces make door-to-door visits in the field to meet with families and shopkeepers to raise awareness on many issues such as the health risks of child marriages. 

As the youngest of the health mediators working in the field to achieve these goals in Van, she works at the forefront against child, early and forced marriages.

Before joining the project, Helin was one of the girls whom she works to help now. “I know what it is like from my own experience. I had not known much about the harms of early marriage myself, either. I had not known that it causes so many health problems” Helin says. She adds that she has learned a lot thanks to both training and meetings she attended to become a health mediator and experiences she has had in the field after starting to work. 

Now, Helin goes from door to door to share all this information that "has changed her life" with families and tradespeople. For Helin, their visits have transformative effects: “After we leave their houses, they talk about what we have said to them. They realize that they have rights, that early marriages have several harmful effects, and think that let’s not do this to my child. I am very happy to see this change”.

“They say I wish I could be like you”

Helin is also a role model for her peers and younger girls in the village. “When there is a child marriage in the village, they come to me and ask if we can do something about it. In this way, we prevented a very young girl from getting married” says Helin to explain their struggle.

As a young person, Helin also sets an example in the village as she both works and studies: “After I leave the houses I visit, the ideas of the girls I meet there change. After seeing me, they say that ‘Helin can do this. If I study too, I can be like her’. They ask me how I achieved this. I respond to them as follows: Believe in yourself.”

“I am more confident now”

Being a health mediator in the process of the prevention of child marriages has also created a big difference in her own personal life: “At first, I was hesitant too. I was not sure if I could explain something to people or convince them but, once I wanted and tried, I realized that I was able to make a contribution to this important process and succeed” says Helin.

“Even in my own house, I was told that you were going to get married and leave anyway so I shouldn’t have intervened in anything. And, I had not interfered with anything. I had kept quiet. I used to think that there was no need to say things. Now, I have confidence. If I have something to say, I make my family and other people listen to me”.

The struggle against child marriages 

The Prevention of Child Marriages Project, implemented by UNFPA Turkey with the financial support of the Sabancı Foundation continues with its 2nd phase in Nevşehir and Van. The project reaches hundreds of people in the remotest areas of Turkey to prevent child, early and forced marriages by raising awareness on their health risks and consequences, establish comprehensive intervention mechanisms at the local level for a stronger struggle and support all children and young people to achieve their full potential. 

In the Van pillar of the project, which is carried out in cooperation with the Life, Women, Environment, Culture and Business Cooperative (YAKA-KOOP), several health mediators like Helin work very hard to eliminate child, early and forced marriages by making door-to-door home and shopkeeper visits. With their efforts, this struggle is getting bigger and stronger day by day.