Outrage in Turkey over ‘child marriage green light’

In this file photo, Turkish students wait for the arrival of President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. (Reuters)
Updated 04 January 2018
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Outrage in Turkey over ‘child marriage green light’

ANKARA: Turkey’s religious affairs state agency came under heavy criticism on Thursday from the main opposition party after it reportedly said girls as young as nine could marry under Islamic law.
The Diyanet religious affairs directorate said on Tuesday the minimum age for girls to marry was nine, while for boys it was 12, according to Turkish media including Hurriyet daily quoting the agency’s official website.
The post, which took the form of an explanatory statement on Islamic law, has since been taken down, after a backlash from the opposition and women’s rights groups.
The head of the High Commission of Religious Affairs Ekrem Keles on Thursday told Hurriyet that the earliest age for a girl to marry is 17 and 18 for a boy.
“Forget a nine or a 10 year old child marrying, a child at 15 should not marry and should not be married,” he said.
The legal age to get married in Turkey is 18.
But Turkish law says that in an extraordinary circumstance, a judge can give permission for a male and female aged 16 to marry.
The controversy touched a nerve in Turkey, where child marriages are not uncommon and the fight continues to raise girls’ level of education.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Gaye Usluer accused the government of being “more interested in how to marry children at a young age when there needs to be talk on children’s education, health.”
Meanwhile CHP lawmaker Murat Bakan on Twitter said child marriages “violates children’s rights, women’s rights and human rights,” adding that the party had called for a parliamentary investigation into child marriages.
Women’s rights groups also criticized the agency, which is similar to a religious affairs ministry, accusing it of trying to legitimize child abuse and urging Diyanet to “get their hands off our children.”
The ministry said it had “never and will never approve early marriages” in a statement, saying it was only defining Islamic law.
“Forcing girls to marry before psychological and biological maturity, and before they obtain the responsibility to become a mother and form a family is not compatible with Islam which says will and consent are conditions for marriage,” it added.
Women’s groups as well as Usluer raised concern over Diyanet’s move coming after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved a controversial law in November allowing state-approved clerics to conduct marriage ceremonies.
“When we said ‘if you give muftis (clerics employed by Diyanet) the power to conduct marriages, the issue of child brides will increase’, this is what we meant,” she said, according to CHP’s website.
Opponents often claim that Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party are attacking the republic’s secular foundations, claims dismissed by the government.
In 2016, the government was forced to throw out a bill that could have pardoned men convicted of child-sex assault after a public outcry.


Expanding ‘dead zone’ in Arabian Sea raises climate change fears

Updated 17 July 2018
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Expanding ‘dead zone’ in Arabian Sea raises climate change fears

  • Dead zones are areas of the sea where the lack of oxygen makes it difficult for fish to survive
  • The findings of the 2015 to 2016 study were released in April and showed the Arabian Sea dead zone had worsened in size and scope

ABU DHABI: In the waters of the Arabian Sea, a vast “dead zone” the size of Scotland is expanding and scientists say climate change may be to blame.
In his lab in Abu Dhabi, Zouhair Lachkar is laboring over a colorful computer model of the Gulf of Oman, showing changing temperatures, sea levels and oxygen concentrations.
His models and new research unveiled earlier this year show a worrying trend.
Dead zones are areas of the sea where the lack of oxygen makes it difficult for fish to survive and the one in the Arabian Sea is “is the most intense in the world,” says Lachkar, a senior scientist at NYU Abu Dhabi in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
“It starts at about 100 meters and goes down to 1,500 meters, so almost the whole water column is completely depleted of oxygen,” he told AFP.
Dead zones are naturally occurring phenomena around the world, but this one appears to have mushroomed since it was last surveyed in the 1990s.
Lachkar and other researchers are worried that global warming is causing the zone to expand, raising concerns for local ecosystems and industries including fishing and tourism.
The discovery was made possible by the use of robotic divers, or “sea gliders,” deployed in areas researchers could not access — an undertaking by Britain’s University of East Anglia in collaboration with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University.
The findings of the 2015 to 2016 study were released in April and showed the Arabian Sea dead zone had worsened in size and scope.
And unlike in the 1996 measurements, when the lowest levels were limited to the heart of the dead zone — midway between Yemen and India — now the dead zone extends across the sea.
“Now everywhere is the minimum, and it can’t go much lower,” the lead researcher Bastien Queste told AFP.
At NYU Abu Dhabi, Lachkar explains the Arabian Sea dead zone appears to be stuck in a cycle where warming seas are depleting the oxygen supply which in turn is reinforcing the warming.
This, he says, “can be very scary for climate.”
Ports from Mumbai to Muscat look out onto the Arabian Sea, making it a critical body of water.
These coastal hubs and the populations beyond them will be affected by further expansion of the dead zone.
Fish, a key source of sustenance in the region, may find their habitats compressed from deep underwater to just beneath the surface, putting them at risk of overfishing and extreme competition.
“When oxygen concentration drops below certain levels, fish cannot survive and you have massive death,” says Lachkar.
To carry out his data-heavy modelling, Lachkar relies on a sprawling supercomputer center which cost several million dollars to set up — a testament to local priorities to research climate change.
The UAE in 2016 renamed its Ministry of Environment and Water as the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, further evidence of the regional desire to meet this global challenge head-on.
“I think it is an important topic for different reasons, not only scientific reasons, but also economic,” says Lachkar from his Center for Prototype and Climate Modelling.
“Fishing is an important source of revenue and it’s directly impacted by the oxygen,” he said.
Even coral reefs and, by extension, tourism could be affected.
Down the hall from his research facility is the complementary Center for Global Sea Level Change, where researchers like Diana Francis study the worldwide impact of the problem.
The issue was at the top of the global agenda in 2015, when the world hammered out a deal in Paris to cut carbon emissions.
But the landmark agreement received a blow last year, when President Donald Trump announced he would be pulling the United States out of the accord.
“It is very disappointing, because a major country is not putting effort in the same direction as the others,” says Francis of the decision.
“But our role is to stick to science, be pragmatic and try to advance our understanding of the climate,” she says.
“Politics change over time,” Francis tells AFP. “But science does not.”