Turkey's highest religious body suggests children as young as nine could marry under Islamic law

'The Turkish Civil Code clearly states that adulthood begins at the age of 18. Early marriages violate children's rights, women's rights, human rights'

Ryan Butcher
Thursday 04 January 2018 18:35 GMT
Murat Bakan is one of 30 MPs in Turkey calling for an investigation into child marriages
Murat Bakan is one of 30 MPs in Turkey calling for an investigation into child marriages

A government body in Turkey has suggested that girls as young as nine and boys as young as 12 could marry under Islamic law, prompting the country's main opposition party to call for an investigation into child marriages.

An online glossary of Islamic terms was posted by Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs – or Diyanet – which is responsible for administering religious institutions and education.

The website said that, according to Islamic law, whoever had reached the age of adolescence had the right to marry.

Elsewhere, the beginning of adolescence was defined as nine and 12 for girls and boys respectively.

Although the glossary has since been removed, 30 MPs from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) have called upon the government to launch a parliamentary inquiry into child marriages.

The legal age of marriage in Turkey is 18, or 17 with parental consent. In exceptional circumstances people can marry at 16, subject to court approval.

However, child marriage in religious ceremonies is widespread in Turkey, taking place in clandestine ceremonies often conducted by a local elder and held at a family's home.

It is a problem the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) claimed it was trying to curb when it brought forward a controversial bill in 2016, which would have allowed men who sexually abused children the chance to have their convictions quashed if their married their victims.

“We cannot ignore this,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said at the time on the subject of child marriage. “There are 3,800 cases and thousands of children. The children are paying the price of their parents’ mistakes.”

Parliament approved the bill in the initial reading but it was pulled before it could reach a final vote, after thousands took to the streets in protest.

Murat Bakan, CHP's MP for Izmir and one of the 30 who called for the investigation, said: "The Turkish Civil Code clearly states that adulthood begins at the age of 18.

"Early marriages violate children's rights, women's rights, human rights. As CHP MPs we ask parliament to investigate child marriages."

Seeking to clarify its stance Diyanet said that the glossary was merely meant as interpretation of Islamic laws.

"Forcing a young girl to marry someone before they obtain the psychological and biological maturity, and before they gain the responsibility to make a family and become a mother, would not comply with Islam, which puts consent and will as a condition in a marriage," it said in a statement. "Our directorate has never approved early marriages in the past, and it never will."

Although accurate data on the extent of the problem is difficult to come by, 15 percent of girls in Turkey are estimated to be married before their 18th birthday.

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