“My daughter Fatimah, 16 years old, traveled with her husband to Turkey. After giving birth, her husband was arrested and accused of rape because she is yet a minor,” Salama al-Shihabi said, adding that her son-in-law was imprisoned for more than four months in the foreigner’s prison in Turkey.
Fatimah is one of many Syrian women who had to suffer the burdens of their society’s traditions, including early/child marriage which they legalize, only to be shocked that these traditions form a crucial breach of law in the countries of refugee, Turkey included, which prohibit these marriages and classify them as crimes.
“My husband has been detained in the regime’s prisons for four years, and we do not know anything about him,” Fatimah’s mother, said justifying why she allowed her daughter’s marriage, in the absence of the breadwinner in a family of five members, based in the city of al-Bab in the eastern countryside of Aleppo, which was under the control of the “Islamic State” (ISIS), making life impossible for a family that has no man, according to al-Shihabi.
The mother did not negate the role of the area’s traditions, which show no objection to minor marriages, which convinced her to agree to give her daughter in marriage according to a religious contract at the age of 14.
But after Fatima’s pregnancy, the intensity of the bombing and the difficulty of her birth in Syria forced her to travel with her husband to Turkey, hoping to return with the new child to al-Bab later on.
The social specialist, Salam Haji Taher, who works for “Médecins Sans Frontières,” spoke to Enab Baladi about the increasing cases such as Fatima, who are coming to their centers in Turkey, not for the purpose of counseling but to know their legal status and the ensuing repercussions.
She explained that these cases began to decline in Syria before 2011, but they returned to increase after the war, especially when Syrians started to take refuge in Turkey, where many families were forced to indulge their daughters in the labor market, where they had to interact and deal with men. To overcome this, trying to find the best choice to reserve their daughters’ safety, they resorted to giving them in marriage, under which men would hold the responsibility for safety preservation.
The social difference between the original society and the host society had a massive impact, for many of the parents, mothers and fathers, visit the specialist only for believing in the danger of their children’s shift into an open society, which has traditions they are not accustomed to and that might be harmful. Again, the only solution that parents could think of as to protect their daughters, from what they described as “deviation and falling into error,” was giving them in marriage.
The decline in the average age of marriage among Syrians has contributed to this phenomenon. In Turkey, young Syrians escape compulsory conscription, and thus can begin to rely on themselves, albeit temporarily, in terms of spending at an early age.
The specialist believes that the phrase “a girl’s place is in the house,” did not lose its effect and was not changed even after Syrians have resorted to Turkey, for the girls have been out of school for many years, under the illusion that the stay in the new country would not be long, but the war persisted for many years, leaving the girls prisoners in their houses.
Inevitable Negative Effects
The effects of this type of marriage are many in social terms. The first is the rising percentage of “divorce,” triggered by the girl’s feeling that she has lost her independence, family and home, especially since many of them live in their husband’s family home.
Today, the girls are also struggling between the old initiation, which prepared them in an environment that favors and encourages early marriages and the reality that is facing them in the host countries.
As for the proliferation of these cases, the specialist views that they increased among the category of Syrian people who she described as “simple,” and those who lack knowledge of the law and its repercussions. However, with raising awareness about law and the effects of this marriages, both socially and legally, the phenomenon is expected to shrink.
Between the Turkish and the Syrian Laws
“I knew about the Turkish law, but I never thought that it would be applied to Syrian refugees,” this was what al-Shihabi said about the law, stressing that every time she went to check on her daughter at the hospital, she suffered interrogation that ended with nothing. However, when her daughter gave birth and with the absence of her daughter’s legal marriage document, that was lost in the shelling, the situation differed, and her son-in-law got arrested.
Article “16” of the Syrian personal affairs law provides that a girl’s age of eligibility is 17 with the agreement of the guardian. But article “18” leaves the door open for violations, “if the male teenager after completing the age of 15 or a female teenager after completing the age of 13 have alleged reaching puberty, and both asked the judge’s permission for marriage, they would be bestowed the right if the reality of their allegations has been proven and their bodies were eligible.”
Enab Baldi has translated the Turkish civil law. Article “124” provides that “a young man or a young woman are not allowed to marry before completing the age of 17. The judge, however, can allow the marriage of the young man or woman if they completed the age of 16, under exceptional circumstances or for a crucial reason. Before making a decision, the guardian, a father, a mother or their representative must be asked their opinions”.
Any different approach to marriage is considered a “sexual investment”, due to which the young man suffers punitive undertakings under the Turkish law, which might be applied to the girl’s father in certain cases. The prison duration ranges from six months to two years. In case, the girl has stated that she was compelled to marry, and this was proven, the penalty would reach 16 years of imprisonment.
As for the Syrian refugees in Turkey, the health and legal educator at a Turkish government clinic, Ahmad Shaker, explained that there was an “excuse” for Syrian girls between the ages of 16 and 17. In some cases, the judge agreed to register their marriage, due to the presence of documents that prove the bond or in case the judge has estimated that the girl is eligible.
As for those who are under the age of 15, Shaker advises them to resort to private hospitals, given the legal accountability that will certainly follow them, and the imprisonment of the husband and the guardian. In some cases, he said that the young man was deported from the country.
Fatima’s mother was scammed after paying large amounts of money to a lawyer who promised to end the case and did nothing. Her son-in-law turned from source of support and a breadwinner to someone who increased the family’s material and moral burdens.
The number of Syrian girls in Turkey between the ages of 10 to 18 is 311 thousand and 12 girls and young women, according to the latest statistics of the Immigration Department issued in early April.
The rate of minors’ marriage in Turkey rose in 2017 to 26%, which is 12% higher than the previous year, according to the United Nations World Educational Envoy, Gordon Brown, according to a report published by the Turkish website “marksist”.
In an investigation published by “Hürriyet” Daily News, early in 2018, 35 Syrian minor girls have given birth in Kanuni Sultan Süleyman Hospital in Istanbul alone, in the first five months of 2017.
In a report by “AFAD” organization, a study, conducted in 2013, showed that there is a massive age discrepancy among Syrian couples; it also showed that young age of mothers has prevailed, for the age of some of them reached 13 to 14 years.
The Syrian women ranked first in the proportion of foreign wives whose marriage contract was registered in 2017 in Turkey; they constitute 19.4% of marriages of foreigners which in total is 20 thousand and 972 cases, according to a study by the Directorate of Turkish Affairs issued in March 2018.