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

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.


Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

Updated 50 min 14 sec ago

Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

  • UN has put forward a phased roadmap calling for an immediate end to violence and electoral reform within 2 weeks
  • Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change

BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials must ramp up their response to mass demonstrations demanding an overhaul of the political system, the UN representative in Baghdad told AFP in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who heads the UN’s Iraq mission (UNAMI), said the country’s authorities must “step up to the plate and make things happen.”
“They are elected by the people, they are accountable to them,” she said.
Protests broke out in Baghdad and the country’s Shiite-majority south in early October over rampant corruption, lack of jobs and notoriously poor services.
One in five people lives below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second biggest producer.
The United Nations has proposed a phased roadmap that, in a crucial step, was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani after meeting Hennis-Plasschaert.
It calls for an immediate end to violence, electoral reform and anti-graft measures within two weeks followed by constitutional amendments and infrastructure legislation within three months.
Hennis-Plasschaert discussed the plan with lawmakers on the sidelines of a parliamentary session on Wednesday, telling them: “Now is the time to act, otherwise any momentum will be lost — lost at a time when many, many Iraqis demand concrete results.”
Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change, unimpressed by government promises of reform.
“There is lots at stake here. Public trust is at an all-time low,” Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP.
“Nothing is more detrimental to public trust than saying ‘A’ and doing ‘B.’ Nothing is more harmful than overpromising and under-delivering,” she added.
Hennis-Plasschaert, 46, was named UNAMI chief last year after having served as the Netherlands defense minister from 2012 until 2017.
She is one of the very few diplomatic figures who meets with Sistani, the revered 89-year-old cleric who never appears in public.
Following their meeting on Monday, she said Sistani, known as the marjaiyah, feared political forces were “not serious enough” to enact reforms.
“If the three authorities — executive, judiciary and legislative — are not able or willing to conduct these reforms decisively, there must be a way to think of a different approach,” she warned at the time.
Pressed by AFP on what the “different approach” could be, Hennis-Plasschaert declined to elaborate, citing “the confidentiality we have with him.”
“The conversation with Grand Ayatollah Sistani is always straightforward, open, and frank, but I cannot go into further detail,” the top diplomat said.
Demonstrators gathering in the main protest camp of Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Wednesday said her meeting with Sistani helped bolster their crowds.
Hennis-Plasschaert met with protesters in Tahrir last month, even riding in the tuk-tuk rickshaw that has become an icon of the uprising for ferrying wounded protesters to medics.
“They are losing brothers and friends in the streets,” she said of the young protesters she had met.
More than 300 people have died and 15,000 people have been wounded since demonstrations erupted on October 1.
“We are witnessing rising numbers of deaths and injured every day. It’s horrific,” Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The protests initially fractured the political class but it has rallied in recent days to prop up the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
Politicians closed ranks following a series of meetings with top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, an extremely influential figure who often brokers deals among Iraq’s fractured political class.
Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP she did not seek to be a counter-weight to Iranian influence but said she feared that “spoilers” could prevent progress.
“This country unfortunately knows many actors, external, internal, that could act as spoilers (and) undermine the legitimate demands of the people,” she said.