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7 December 2017, Bursa - United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Turkey office in cooperation with Refugee Support Association (MUDEM) and Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD-ASAM), organized a "Child Marriage Awareness Panel" in Bursa on 7 December 2017. The panel, was done with the support of Yıldırım Municipality at Yıldırım Barış Manço Culture Centre, aimed to reach out to the refugee women residing in Bursa. The main purpose of the panel was to raise awareness regarding the adverse effects of child marriages which are considered a violation of human rights in internationally signed agreements, contracts and documents as the reason for destitute children using their most basic rights. During the panel, experts made presentations on the Physical, Psychological and Social Dimensions of Child Marriages, Legal Status and Obligations in Child Marriages in Turkey and Child Marriages from an Islamic Perspective.

180 Refugee women attended the Child Marriage Awareness Panel for which the content was specially developed for the beneficiaries of the UNFPA’s Women and Girls Safe Space located in Bursa which is run by UNFPA’s implementing partner Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (SGDD) and funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Organization (ECHO).  

Deputy Governor of Bursa Ibrahim Avcı and Deputy Mayor of the Municipality of Bursa Yıldırım Fatih Polat, representatives of public institutions and organizations and women's organizations, as well as various non-governmental organizations also attended the panel.

Kadir Beyaztaş, the Assistant General Coordinator of the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Immigrants (SGDD-ASAM) stated in his opening speech that, ASAM has served more than 20 years in more than 40 provinces to defend the rights and services of refugees and asylum seekers, and especially that the childhood marriages of which the social, psychological and physical influences are among the heaviest violations of human rights and that they will give all kinds of effective struggle to prevent this destructive problem and that these panels are important in the manner to raise awareness.

Duygu Arığ, Regional Program Manager of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Humanitarian Assistance Program, said in her opening speech that "Child marriages are a violation of human rights and one of the most harmful and hurtful among all human rights violations. Although marriages in childhood affect both girls and boys, girls are more negatively affected by this issue and their health is directly threatened. In particular, financial difficulties and humanitarian crises can lead to a misconception that families are acting in the best interests of their children. However, child marriages cause precisely the opposite effect and create a major obstacle to the healthy and productive lives of girls. In order to prevent child marriages, public institutions should act together with community leaders and non-governmental organizations. To this end, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with its public and civil society partners, is working to protect the human rights of girls and supports the development of policies and programs and laws to prevent child marriages".

Yıldırım Municipality Deputy Mayor Fatih Polat emphasized the importance of the issue and pointed out the necessity of an effective collective effort to end child marriages. He stressed that the work carried out in order to raise awareness is effective and empowering. He expressed that Yildirim Municipality’s Women and Family Directorate, provide support for women's empowerment with their staff who are expert on the issue.

Deputy Governor of Bursa Ibrahim Avci touched on the physical and psychological damages child marriages cause. He emphasized that some of the students in the school-age cannot benefit from education because they are forced to marry. The organizations working in this area should unite to tackle this problem.

One of the panel speakers, Lawyer Ece Ozsaraç, expressed that "Child marriage is the official and non-formal marriage where one (or both) of the parties is a child. Child marriages are considered as a form of sexual violence. According to the Turkish Criminal Code numbered 5237, "The person who exploits the child sexually will be punished with imprisonment from three years up to eight years".

Seher Nacarküçük, Public Health Specialist of Bursa Provincial Health Directorate, in the panel stated in her speech that, children who are not ready for sexual intercourse as biologically and physiologically are more likely to find themselves in a situation to be sexually active, which triggers reproductive health issues, unplanned maternity and causes to permanent psychological damages. Mentioning on Psycho-Social Effects of Child Marriages, Nacarküçük stated that, personality-identity developments are hampered, social activities are confronted with problems of limitation and social isolation, lack of self-confidence in social activities will occur, loss of personal freedom, and education and development opportunities will be taken away”.

In her presentation Nesrin Semiz from the Baskent Woman Platform with the subject "Child Marriages from Islamic Perspective", stated, "The most important issue for the Islamic religion is the value of the human life. In pregnancies under 18 years of age, the loss of human lives - both mother and baby - are bound by the verse "killing one human being mean killing all humanity". Islam does not accept child marriages, which creates a serious health problems that will ruin the peace of religion, people and society overall." In her speech, Semiz also said that "The physical development of a girl does not mean that she is ready for marriage; at the same time, she must have reached the will and ability to make her own decisions without any pressure and to be ready for marriage. Marriage is only possible when both parties are able to reach a mature enough level where they can help themselves and contribute to the society".

Following the presentations, 2 refugee women shared their experiences in this regard.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS)

One in three women in the world marries before the age of 18. Unless essential and effective studies are conducted about child marriages, it is expected that the number of women who marry at a young age will reach 1.2 billion as of 2050. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Turkey Office has been offering capacity development, service provision, reproductive health services and hygiene supplies in women's health and violence against women within the scope of the Humanitarian Aid Program since 2011.

In this respect, Safe Spaces for Women and Girls (WGSS) have started to forge cooperation with various organizations. The centers established in various cities in 2017 with the support from the European Commission Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), US Government, Swedish Government and the Japanese Government mainly operate in sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence, psycho-social support, empowerment and supply distribution for asylum seeker women and girls.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was established in 1969 as the biggest aid source with international funding in the area of population operating around the world. UNFPA operates in more than 150 countries for creating policies and strategies that support sustainable development. Having started its activities on a project basis, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been working on reproductive health, encouraging social-gender equality, and collecting, using and distributing data about development and humanitarian aid in Turkey since 1971. Within this framework, the first Country Program lasted from 1988 to 1992 and now the Sixth Country Program (2016-2020) is being executed.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) works to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person's potential is fulfilled. To this end, UNFPA focuses especially on 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); SDG 3: Good health and well-being, SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 5: Gender Equality and finally, SDG 17: Partnerships for Goals

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