Young Women’s News and Views

Çocuk Gelinler: “Child Brides” in Turkey

by Yoruk Bahceli

Despite Turkey’s strained relationship with the EU following the infamous Gezi Parkı protests, there still is room to talk about Turkey in relation to the EU, especially as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) gained a significant amount of support from liberals for whom accession to the EU was a priority

Following the strain between the EU and Turkey due to the protests, in a statement made in September 2013, former EU minister Egemen Bağış stated that

Turkey will probably never become a member of the European Union because of stiff opposition and “prejudiced” attitudes from current members.

While Bağış’s approach may be debatable in terms of issues such as Cyprus, Turkey is quite a distance away from EU standards. Without doubt, the most appalling of these issues is women’s rights. In this article, I will analyse one dimension in which women are abused: the marriage of children, to which I will refer as “premature marriages”.

Although the issue has persisted throughout Turkish history, it has once again come to media attention following the death of Kader Erten. Erten was married off in an unofficial Islamic ceremony at the age of 11.5, and had her first child at the age of 12.5. She cast media attention when she was found dead following the death of her second child due to premature birth.

In addition to re-raising the issue of premature marriage, the way Erten’s death was portrayed by many media outlets in Turkey caused reaction. As usual, Erten was referred to as a çocuk gelin, or küçük gelin, that is child bride or little bride in Turkish. This rhetoric may seem rather innocent or even uncontroversial at first glance. However, upon more insight, it is easy to see that such rhetoric removes the issue from the realm of pedophilia, legitimizing the practice by making it seem harmless and approvable. While ‘child’ makes the practice seem innocent, ‘bride’ makes it seem praiseworthy and desirable, in a community where marriage is a dominant norm and expected aim, especially for women.

Such a stance has been supported in official discourse. When discussing the case of Erten, the newly-appointed Minister of Family and Social Policy Ayşenur İslam claimed that “nobody marries of their child with the aim of doing harm. Most of the marriages are innocent.” These words should not come as a surprise, for they were uttered by the minister of a government that changed the name of the ‘Ministry of Women and Family Affairs’ to the ‘Ministry of Family and Social Policy’, and closed down the Women’s Commission in parliament, replacing it with a ‘Family Commission’. These acts clearly show that the Erdoğan government prioritizes the family over women as individuals.

The main problem that leads to premature marriages is this very mentatlity itself: that the family is prioritized over women as individuals. According to the 16th article of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights:
Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

It is clear that children are not able to consent “freely” and “fully” when they are married, due to their undeveloped capacities, both in the mental and in the sexual sense. However, because girls, neither as children nor as future women, are not perceived primarily as individuals, this is not a prioritized concern.

However, for further insight, we must look at the particular way in which the Erdoğan government has encouraged the practice beyond discourse:

Firstly, the government, as Family and Social Policy Minister İslam has admitted, has failed to implement the laws that already deem child marriage illegal. While twelve years of education is mandatory in Turkey, the state simply does not ensure that all children are enrolled in school and complete their mandatory education.

Furthermore, the government has encouraged premature marriages by maintaining the Turkish Civil Code as it is. The code still states that both women and men are permitted to marry at age seventeen, and in the case of an extraordinary situation, they may marry at age sixteen with the consent of a judge, after the judge has listened to the child and his/her parents when possible. However, it is obvious that, and has often been commented that judges misuse this power easily granting permission for sixteen year-olds to marry.

Finally, as the majority of premature marriages are conducted as unofficial, religious ceremonies, the Presidency of Religious Affairs, which is responsible for religious services in Turkey, should have taken care to monitor those Imams that conducted religious marriage ceremonies where an official marriage was not in place. This must be done as it is illegal to conduct Islamic marriage ceremonies for couples who are not married officially.

The government has also directly encouraged premature marriages through its recent revision of education regulations. Previously, married students were unable to register to high schools, and those who got married while in education would get expelled. However, the clause expelling those who marry has been removed, adding that they will automatically be registered onto a distant learning program. The reasoning behind the ammendment appears to be the fact that 460,000 of the 6 million children between ages fifteen and nineteen in Turkey are currently married. However, this is clearly a way of legitimizing these marriages, and finding a solution to adapt them to the current educational system, as opposed to tackling the marriage issue itself.

As has been said in relation to other human rights violations in Turkey, the EU has continued to praise a government that has not only failed, but actively encouraged violations since its election in 2002. The EU has mainly focused on the changes made to Turkey’s judicial system, and human-rights, but only in a superficial, macro sense, through a vague focus that has mainly covered Kurdish minority rights and social and political rights for those who have been constrained due to their Islamist identities.

If the EU truly aims for Turkey to meet the contemporary human rights standards expected of a democratic state, the EU will have to start asking micro-level questions about not only how state, but also societal mentality, which most definitely affects judicial decisions, will have to be changed. In the case of premature marriages, we need to look at the kinds of measures the EU should encourage and expect from Turkey in order to change the mindset that legitimizes them. Of course, for this to be accomplished, the EU must admit that they have made a mistake in ignoring the appalling stance that the AKP has chosen to take in terms of women’s rights, if not in many other fields.

Nordic or No-luck?

by Katie Washington

Will criminalising prostitution punters through EU policy really work?

On the 23rd January 2014, the EU Parliamentary committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) voted through a report arguing that prostitution is a fundamental violation of women’s rights. This means that the report will go to a vote in the EU Parliament in February 2014 in Strasbourg.

The report, put forward by Mary Honeyball, Labour MEP for London, recommends the adoption of the ‘Nordic Model’ of prostitution laws, based on Swedish laws of prostitution, which criminalise sex-buyers and not sex-sellers. The Nordic Model has already been adopted in France – anyone found paying for sex will be fined €1,500 (£1,250) for a first offence. If caught a second time, the fine would be increased to €3,000. UK policy makers are also being urged to adopt the Nordic way of ‘cracking down’ on prostitution, and it looks like Ireland is following suit.

This is a massive breakthrough in the way we see prostitution across Europe. Laws based on this model will not only criminalise the purchase of prostituted acts, but also acknowledge the state’s obligation to provide a range of rehabilitative services to those who have been used in prostitution. It decriminalises and de-stigmatises the role of women who sell sex and transfers responsibility to the men who are paying for it. It is a legal and social redistribution of guilt and shame of prostitution from the seller to the buyer of sex. From the UK (blanket criminalisation) to Germany (blanket legalisation), there are currently vast-differences in the domestic prostitution laws of member states, and in a Europe ridden with sex-tourism and trafficking, adopting the Nordic-model seems like a promising solution.

The perceived success of the Nordic-model is based on its adoption in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. In Sweden, it is reported that it has halved street prostitution and caused a marked reduction in trafficking and changed social attitudes towards selling and buying sex. However, Mary-Len Skilbrei (Malmö University) and Charlotta Holmström (University of Oslo) claim that these improvements must not be taken on face value and adopting the Nordic-model in Europe is going to be more complicated than we think.

According to Skilbrei and Holmström, the evidence that the Nordic-model has resulted in halving street prostitution is based on the work of organisations that report on specific groups they work with, not the state of prostitution more generally: social workers, for example, count and get an impression based on their contact with women in street prostitution in the largest cities, and there is no reason to believe that other forms of prostitution are not still going on. There is evidence that the Swedish Sex Purchase Act (1999) may have raised prices for sex, making trafficking for sexual purposes potentially more lucrative than ever.

Furthermore, Skilbrei and Holmström argue that we should be careful in concluding that Nordic prostitution policies are guided by progressive feminist ideals, or that they necessarily seek to protect women involved in prostitution because of the way they treat foreign female nationals who are selling sex. In Sweden this is embodied by the Aliens Act, which forbids foreign women from selling sex in Sweden and is used by the police to apprehend non-Swedish or migrant persons suspected of selling sex. This reveals the limits of the rhetoric of female victimisation, with clients framed as perpetrators: if the seller is foreign, she is to blame, and can be punished with deportation.

Therefore, before the European Parliament adopts an extension of the Nordic model as its official position on prostitution in February and encourages EU member states to reassess their prostitution policies in line with this position, it is important to take into account the true impact of adopting the Nordic-model and whether it would really have any effect on prostitution, trafficking, and sex tourism across Europe at all.

However, it is important to note that despite the possible technical issues of implementing the Nordic-model across Europe, the debate around European prostitution policy a step in the right direction. As stated by Mary Honeyball MEP, prostitution is a product of deep-seated misogyny and inequality, and it is about time that the EU challenged its member states on their out-dated prostitution laws which are totally incompatible with the principles enshrined in the EU’s charter of fundamental rights.


by Martha Saunders

“If our vote didn’t matter, nobody would have tried so hard to take it away from us”

It’s a thing of rare beauty when a celebrity starts to take an interest in something that matters. Russell Brand got young people to talk about politics to an extent which I have never seen before. His sharp wit transcended the exclusive ring of dull old white men and really spoke to people, ordinary people. But the core of his message, refusing to vote, seemed somehow out of sync.

His analysis of voter apathy is sound, the problems facing the left are perceptive, the assertions that contemporary politics completely fails to represent the lower half of the population rings true. In short, Brand summarises the downsides of our political system brilliantly. It was for this reason that I was so confused by his solution to this problem. The vague promise of a revolution (“it has already begun” he states dramatically in his closing sentence, by way of glazing over exactly what form this revolution should take) seems a worrying course of action to promote given the fact he’s just correctly identified how apathetic we are as a nation. Apathetic people are terrible at revolutions. We tried it in 2010, the riots celebrated by Brand; it didn’t work. People were angry but they weren’t sure what about. The destruction was random and chaotic and dissolved into a rush to nick some £80 trainers or a flatscreen TV. We can’t have a revolution. We don’t care enough.

The revolutionary undertone, however, was not the main concern with the editorial for the simple reason that it will take a hell of a lot more to move the British population to political insurgency than a man off the telly telling them to do so. Given this context, Brand’s declarations of revolution seem harmless. What’s worrying is his other, more simple proposition – not voting.

Complaining about parties no longer representing the youth and the working classes and citing apathy among this group, and then encouraging those very same people to disenfranchise themselves is absurd. The reason for Brand’s error of judgment seems to lie in his analysis of the fundamental intentions of a political party. He cites them as self -serving, ignoring the wishes of the populace to fulfil the needs and desires of their own class. But there is something much more simple and powerful at play. The role of a party is not to serve itself, but to get elected. The reason politicians are currently desperately catering to the elder section of the population and to the upper and middle classes is because it is these people who can be guaranteed to rock up at the polling both on election day, and therefore it is these people who’s approval they need to secure to ensure their success. Nobody is representing the working classes or young people any more because, increasingly, they are failing to try and vote for someone to represent them and thus completely lose their status as a valuable resource for a political party to win.

Only 65% of eligible Brits voted in the 2010 election. The last thing we need is less people voting. Brand is wrong to assume that a drop in votes, particularly in people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, would somehow incite a large-scale political shift. If this were to happen, the only result would be an even greater democratic deficit, an even greater rift between the needs of the population and the policy which is actually introduced as the parties began to cater for the increasingly small amount of the population who are exercising their democratic right. Frankly, they’d probably be delighted at the prospect of a smaller and more simple voter base to try and appease.

This narrow view stems from Brand’s assumption that we have two choices – “dystopia or utopia.” The reality is that these are two incredibly distant polarities which we lie somewhere in between. We may never reach a utopia but our current system, a representative democracy which many countries could barely dare to dream of, is far from a dystopia. If we really wanted to resolve its flaws such as the under-representation of young people, working-class people, women,immigrants, the worst possible thing we could do to achieve it is by seeking to further disenchant and disenfranchise these groups and create further schisms in our society. Instead, Brand should be encouraging them to involve themselves as much as possible with the system – to vote, to demand representation, to join a party themselves. We are blessed with a system that, for all its shortcomings, is built to allow us the power to change it from within; and that is a rare and beautiful thing to be cherished and protected.