Printed Edition ‖ No.: 219
Enab Baladi – Urfa (Turkey)
“Marriage is eventually a girl’s destiny so why not an early marriage. A man would also give a girl shelter and remove her burden of her family”, these were statements uttered by parents of Syrian minor girls in the Turkish city of Urfa, in an attempt to justify the phenomenon of young underage marriages, which has dramatically spread lately among Syrians in that city.
Parents, who Enab Baladi met with, claim that “there is no religious or legal objection against early marriage, and that war allowed everything”, while others say that this phenomenon was widespread when they were in Syria, while some others see that talking about this subject “goes against society and religion”.
Poverty is a main reason
Haj Ali, who was displaced from the countryside of Aleppo to Turkey says; “Samar is my eldest and dearest child, I want her to have a husband’s shelter, who would protect her in this emigration, and who would provide her with things that I cannot provide”, he explains to Enab Baladi that the idea of his almost 15-year-old daughter is “not a mistake”, justifying that; “we are in an Arab and a Muslim society and this is something normal.”
Ali does not feel embarrassed to give his daughter away in marriage, believing that it is religiously legitimate, not to mention that it is a known practice in Syria for a long time. While he admits that the age range of the girls given away in marriage has gone to younger age, whose ages might be as young as 13 years old, “yet what we are experiencing is a reality we should accept, many of my relatives in northern Syria have given their daughters away in marriage at the same age.”
Ali (45-year-old) lives with his wife and three children in a 4-meter-room in Al-Hashmieh neighborhood. Samar, Ali’s eldest child, and her younger brother sell napkins in the streets, while the father works at a small restaurant with a wage that does not exceed 500 Turkish Lira, which does not cover the treatment costs of his sick wife, in addition to the room’s rent and the purchase of some food, as Ali describes it.
One of Haji Ali’s neighbors (refused to reveal his name) in an interview with Enab Baladi says that “the girl does not know much about marriage, but she knows well that she will ease the burden for her family and help them with her dowry in covering their expenses.”
The Syrian-Turkish Marriages…”Everything happened so fast”
Not far away from where Samar, lives Reem of the 17 years old with her Turkish husband in Al-Eyupye area in Urfa, after she was married two years earlier to a man who was 20 years older than her. The young woman admitted in her interview with Enab Baladi that she was not able to understand what happened back then, adding; “everything happened so fast, and I found myself in the arms of a man who I cannot understand his language.”
Despite what happened to Reem, she considers that age is not a problem, pointing out that “moving to their husbands’ houses is an exemplary solution for these girls to rescue them from the life of misery, especially in the camps, in addition it is a prevention of the shame that may haunt them through displacement conditions and under exposure to continuous harassment.”
Girls’ rights are lost
According to Reem, the essential dilemma is that “the wives’ rights are lost in case a separation happens, no matter what the reasons might be”, pointing out that the marriage takes place with no legal bond, whether it be among Syrians themselves, or even when marrying to Turkish people, attributing the reason behind that to “the absence of a Syrian official party that documents the Syrians’ contracts, while the Turkish law prohibits the marriage of a minor under the age of 16 years old, criminalizing it and punish people for it.
Enab Baladi spotted some other cases that Syrian girls witnessed, one of them is Abeer (16 years old) whose family gave away in marriage to an elderly man in one of the Turkish cities, but she ran away and is currently working as a maid for a Syrian family in “Cereen” neighborhood in Urfa.
She tells Enab Baladi “I ran away from my husband and family who sold me to an elderly man who beats me up every day”, pointing that she stayed with him for about 4 months, during which she frequently suffered and was kicked out of the house many times. She was also forced to do abortion, as she describes.
Abeer tried to explain her suffering to her family, but they refused to have her and had her returned to her husband. She said: “they used to say to me (we offer flesh and you offer the stick), that’s what pushed me to run to Urfa, and I currently work in the service of a family, who secured a place for me to stay in return for my services.”
Underage marriage has consequences and psychological problems
Enab Baladi interviewed Al-Sheikh Jamal Al-Badri, the director of one of the legitimate institutions in Turkey, who considers that despite the religious and social legitimacy of underage marriage and the fact that “it is proven in most jurisprudence references”, yet he personally does not encourage it since it has consequences on the girl, the family and the society, pointing that “despite all that, there are recent Fatwas that place strict conditions on such marriages including the girl’s readiness and her physical ability.”
On the other hand, Dr. Fatma, a specialist in family treatments, who works at one of the organizations’ in Urfa, refused the underage marriage and called for ending it as it is “devastating”. She explains to Enab Baladi that the phenomenon spread in the Syrian society for years, “yet numbers have recently doubled due to a number of factors, most notably the spread of extreme thoughts and financial hardships.”
The doctor stresses the rise in the number of young married girls who visit her due to health problems, pointing out that giving them away to marriage before the age of 16 “cause them physical harm as they are not fully grown, and they suffer harm on the wedding night and they are forced to go to hospital or stay in bed due to bleeding or damaging the uterus resulting from their small and weak bodies.”
Ali Al-Hussein, the psychological counselor, says; “warnings and risks do not seem convincing enough for many parents to stop them from committing this crime against their daughters”. He asserts in his interview with Enab Baladi the dangers of the psychological crisis a little girl face, “due to an early sexual experience.”
Al-Hussein, who works with one of the Syrian organizations in the city, considers that most marriages do not last, “because she is incapable at her age”, pointing to “most girls are divorced and return back to their families after a short period of time, the thing that increases the psychological crisis of the little girl.”
Many initiatives to raise awareness about the underage marriages have been launched by civil organizations and activists in Urfa, yet they remained “fragile” in light of the poor living conditions, Abdullah Al-Ali, a Syrian civil activist in the city, tells Enab Baladi that it is necessary to work on a larger scale in collaboration with local and international organizations in order to limit this phenomenon, which he considers “a social reaction and a full-fledged crime committed against minors.”
So many experiences those girls have been through after they got married at an early age, yet most of these experiences remain under wraps, “Syrians are sentenced to silence and patience in everything”, as Samar concludes her interview with Enab Baladi. While Reem is expecting her second child assuring that she is happy, despite the fact that her husband is engaged to another Syrian girl. Abeer tries to overcome her crisis, but she still fears anyone who comes close to her.