By Sahizer Samuk
[CN: mention of rape]
The number of women in Turkey who gave birth under the age of 17 (more specifically between the age of 15 and 17) was 16396 in 2017.1 The number of those who gave birth under the age of 15 was 234. The scandal came to the fore thanks to a nurse, who saw the file of a woman who was brought to the hospital, and went downstairs to check the reports. By chance, she discovered that there are many files of women giving birth under the age of 17, but the hospital had not questioned the extraordinary numbers. The nurse heard the screams of a 15 year-old who was giving birth, and she was brave enough to follow the cases. She discovered that in 2016 alone 155 Syrian women and more than 300 Turkish young Turkish women had given birth in the hospital. After more in-depth research it became clear that this is a scandal, but one which is also being covered up by the hospitals. Nobody seemed alarmed at the situation, which appeared to be becoming the norm2.
The issue has grown to be a major case, as women under the age of 18 are now legally allowed to be married, and so many of the Syrian women were therefore taken as the second or third wives (at very young ages) in the local religious authority (müftü) with a religious ceremony. The recent announcements by one of the employees of the Ministry of Religious Affairs also indicated that “women can get married at the age of 9”, paving the way for bigotry and for a religious understanding of Islam, trying to diffuse it within all parts of society as well as normalizing this situation.3 Many NGOs protested after this speech, as there are also strong feminist and women’s organisations in Turkey. But when it comes to the understanding of feminism, to this day most Turkish men understand it as ‘hostility towards men’. Some Turkish men even say “you are going to imprison us in the kitchen” in the face of feminist perspectives. The textile industry is still male dominated as well as media organisations. Women are directed to jobs that are easier for them: being a teacher, being a nurse, doing jobs that are “lighter” so that they can spend more time with their children. It seems that we need more established and long-term strategic work in order to disseminate the ideas of feminism and women’s rights, and the idea that feminism would be positive not only for women, but for society as a whole, including men (that is, if they can live with the fact that they need to give up some of their power and be humble in the working environments and family related situations). Otherwise, wrongly implemented religious rules, medieval practices and ways of life dominated by religion will start to govern Turkish society. Some traces of this can already be seen today, but this kind of deterioration is unacceptable.
The nurse who discovered the first case said: “the screams of that girl are still in my ears. That is how I decided to follow the case”. I am proud of what she did. She went to court and she wanted these inquiries to be launched into these cases. This was a very brave act on her part. The discussion about child mothers, who are forced to marry due to religious rules without being protected by the law, who are left to the mercy of their families and their often much older husbands, began thanks to her inquiries. Tragically, some of these women may even have been raped, but this has not been part of the discussion.
We have to be aware that nobody has a right to darken the lives of young women at such an age, forcing them to marry and bear children at the age of 15. The increase in the number of young women giving birth is frightening. However, despite how horrible and real this is, the Turkish government does not care about inequality between men and women, that I do not see much hope unless brave people like this nurse do something about it.
 Turkish institute of statistics
 https://www.ntv.com.tr/turkiye/115-hamile-cocuk-skandalini-ortaya-cikaran-kadin-konustu,YAVAbhV6ikK3lns2S8E1ew accessed on 20th of January 2018
 http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2018/gundem/diyanete-gore-9-yasina-giren-kiz-evlenebilir-2156867/ accessed on 20th of January 2018
Sahizer Samuk received her PhD from the Department of Institutions, Politics and Policies at IMT Institute for Advanced Studies. She wrote her thesis on Temporary Migration and Temporary Integration: Canada and the UK in a Comparative Perspective. Besides her academic career, she has written for a Turkish literature blog called begenmeyenokumasin. She has always been interested in authors such as Sevgi Soysal, Simone de Beauvoir and Nancy Fraser and feminist interpretations of novels and films.>
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