A YOUNG girl in braids and a bridal veil lifts a tear-stained face to the camera. “My name is Hayat, and I am 15 years old,” she tells the audience. “My husband is 70 years old.”
A stout, white-bearded man steps into the frame to join her, and she dissolves into tears. “This dress is not my bridal gown,” she sobs. “It is my shroud.”
The music swells and the camera cuts to black. “One out of two women in Turkey is married off as a teenager,” a speaker announces from off-screen. “More than two million of our girls have been sold for a bride price.”
The two-minute film clip, which has already racked up tens of thousands of clicks on the internet, is the trailer for a much-anticipated soap opera by Mahsun Kirmizigul, a popular singer turned screenwriter and director, which is scheduled to debut this week on Turkish television and expose the continuing extent of the child bride practice.
The series, called Life Goes On, will follow the life and times of Hayat’s extended family as they flee poverty in central Anatolia and attempt to find their feet in Istanbul. The focus in the initial episodes will be on the fate of the young girl as she is married off to the old man – a fate that is all too common in Anatolia.
In fact, as the television critic Sina Kologlu pointed out in Istanbul, the trailer bears a striking resemblance to the real-life testimonies of child brides around the country interviewed for a documentary film by women’s rights activists being released this week.
The film, entitled Child Brides, is the result of an 18-month information and awareness campaign conducted by the Flying Broom women’s rights group, which included seminars, conferences and meetings with local officials and families around the country, as well as a book and an academic research project.
“I was 13 years old when I was married off to a 30-year-old man I had never seen,” a woman, now 37, told campaigners in the southeastern province of Van. “I always remained afraid of him.”
“I was married at 16,” another recounted at a meeting in Izmir, while other women spoke of violence, abuse and misery in testimonies collected in the campaign’s book. “We have spent 20 years in silence. We are still strangers to each other.”
A national average of 28 per cent of Turkish women are married before the age of 18, Yildiz Ecevit, a sociology professor at Middle Eastern Technical University, told a parliamentary committee hearing on child brides in Ankara last month.
But regional differences mean that as many as 50 per cent of girls are married off as minors in some parts of the country, particularly in eastern and central Anatolia.
Reliable figures on child brides are hard to come by because official statistics do not register the unofficial religious marriages still prevalent in much of Anatolia. Childhood marriages are “widely accepted” by Turkish society with girls married off early to minimise the economic burden on their family as well as the risk of any sexual contact before marriage. The bride “price” that is still paid in many regions remains an additional incentive.
As further causes, the report pointed to deeply rooted customs like the exchange of brides between two families, the betrothal of babies at birth, the giving of girls as brides to settle blood feuds, and the continued practice of polygamy. In addition, girls who have been raped or molested are quickly married off to the rapist or any other man to preserve family honour, the report noted.
The commission slammed child marriages as “violations of children’s rights, women’s rights and human rights”, pinpointing the practice as a prime cause of domestic violence, infant mortality and gender inequality. “State institutions do not yet address this problem sufficiently,” the report found.
Selen Dogan, project coordinator of the Flying Broom campaign, agrees. “Almost all local officials we spoke to at our conferences around the country agreed that this practice is a bad thing, but no one had ever done anything about it,” Dogan said. More Here