Forced Marriage Overseas: Turkey
Individuals from the United States may face challenges if trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriages in Turkey. While the country has enacted reforms to its legal code and launched programs to address gender-based violence, protections are still often lacking, particularly in certain regions. Violence against women remains widespread, with domestic violence, honor killings, and the continuation of child marriage of particular concern.1
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Turkey, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in Turkey
Marriages in Turkey are governed by the Turkish Civil Code.2 Under the law, individual may not marry until they are 17 years old. However, a judge may permit a individuals who are 16 years old to get married in extraordinary circumstances or for important reasons. Parental consent is not required, but the judge may listen to the parent or guardian if he or she wishes to speak during the proceedings.3 Only officially conducted marriages are valid under Turkish law.4 Moreover, any person who has a religious marriage without having a legal marriage, or who conducts a religious ceremony without seeing official documentation of a legal marriage, is subject to imprisonment from two months to six months under the Criminal Code.5 Parties to a marriage may petition for annulment or divorce, and gender does not impact an individual’s ability to access these options. Forced marriage constitutes grounds for both annulment and divorce.6
There are no laws specifically against forced or child marriage in Turkey, though the country has been strengthening protections for women and children in recent years. Official statistics of likely do not reflect the real numbers child marriages as those involving individuals under the age of 18 are usually are not officially recorded.7 The rate of child marriage in Turkey is estimated at 14%,8 although one study estimates that one third of all marriages in eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey involve brides under the legal minimum age of marriage.9 Forced marriages and child marriages continue to persist in Turkey due to poverty, lack of education, traditional beliefs and practices around marriage, domestic violence, and social pressure.10
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
Turkey has recently set up a stronger framework of laws offering protections against and programs working on prevention of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence, and victims can access shelters, protection orders, and other remedies. There is also a strong NGO community, with some agencies focusing specifically on raising awareness of and combating forced marriage, honor crimes, and other forms of violence against women.
Despite the presence of laws against domestic violence in Turkey, law enforcement response to such issues has been the subject of significant criticism. Human Rights Watch has reported that Turkish police frequently dismiss or ignore complaints and often prioritize preserving family unity, compelling women to “reconcile with abusers rather than pursuing criminal investigations or assisting women in getting protection orders.” This pattern has only served to reinforce widespread mistrust of police in Turkey and decrease the use of legally available remedies for victims.11
Additional hurdles for women and girls seeking protection from violence include the limited number of law enforcement officers, and their lack of education and sensitivity in dealing with violence against women; overloaded prosecutors that are not able to review domestic violence incidents in a timely manner, the limited number of family courts in Turkey, and too few shelters.12 There are reports that government counselors sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families, and human rights organizations have made claims that authorities manipulated the statistics on violence against women to show progress on the issue.13
Honor killings remain a serious problem, particularly in the southeastern regions of Turkey. Due to lesser punishments for minors, families may have young males carry out the violence. Women are also often pressured to commit suicide if they are perceived as having dishonored their families.14
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Please check the entry and exit requirements for Bangladesh for the most up to date information.15
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Turkey, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in Turkey.
- U.S. Embassy Ankara
Contact the embassy in the case of an emergency.
Tel: +(90) (312) 455-5555
1 Department of State, Turkey 2013 Human Rights Report, available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/220551.pdf (last accessed 9/2/14).
2 U.S. Embassy, Turkish Marriage Procedure for Americans, available at http://turkey.usembassy.gov/marriage_divorce.html (last visited Jan. 31, 2014).
3 Turkey, Turkish Civil Code, Law No. 4721, published in the Official Gazette, dated December 8, 2001 and No. 24607, (“Turkish Civil Code”), Book II, Section II, Article 124.
4 Id. at Book II, Section III, Article 143.
5 Id. at Book II, Section III, Part VIII, Article 230(5), Article 230(6).
6 2nd Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation, decision dated 12 July 2004 and decision number 2004/9333; Turkish Civil Code, Book II, Section IV, Part II, Article 166, 2nd Court of Cassation, Decision No. 2006/17118 Date: 7 December 2006.
7 One in Three a Child Marriage in Turkey, NSNBC International (October 14, 2013), available at http://nsnbc.me/2013/10/14/one-three-child-marriage-turkey (last visited Mar. 4, 2014).
8 United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice (2011), at 134, available at http://progress.unwomen.org/pdfs/EN-Report-Progress.pdf (last visited Aug. 7, 2014).
9 Third of Marriages in Eastern Turkey Involve Child Brides: NGO, Hürriyet Daily News (January 15, 2014), available at http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/third-of-marriages-in-eastern-turkey-involve-child-brides-ngo.aspx?pageID=238&nID=61055&NewsCatID=339 (last visited February 7, 2014).
10 The Commission of the Equality between Man and Woman, Grand National Assembly of Turkey, The Report on the Evaluation regarding Marriages of Minors, available at http://www.tbmm.gov.tr/komisyon/kefe/docs/komisyon_rapor.pdf.
11 Human Rights Watch, “He Loves You, He Beats You”: Family Violence in Turkey and Access to Protection, (2012), at 28, 31-32, available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/05/04/he-loves-you-he-beats-you-0 (last visited Feb. 7, 2014).
12 Id. at 34.
13 Department of State, Turkey 2013 Human Rights Report, available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/220551.pdf (last accessed 9/2/14).
14 Department of State, Turkey 2013 Human Rights Report, available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/220551.pdf (last accessed 9/2/14).
15 Migration Policy Centre, MPC – Migration Profile: Turkey (2013), available at http://www.migrationpolicycentre.eu/docs/migration_profiles/Turkey.pdf (last visited Feb. 7, 2014).