On International Women’s Day, March 8, Turkish news outlets covered the tragic life and early death of a Syrian child bride.
Last August, in Aleppo, Mafe Zafur, 15, married her cousin Ibrahim Zafur in an Islamic marriage. The couple moved to Turkey, but the marriage ended after six months, when her husband abruptly threw out of their home. With nowhere to sleep, Mafe found shelter with her brother, 19, and another cousin, 14, in an abandoned truck.
On 8 March, Mafe killed herself, reportedly with a shotgun. Her only possession, found in her pocket, was her handwritten marriage certificate.
Mafe Zafur is only one of many young Syrians who have been victims of child marriage. Human rights groups report even greater abuse that gangs are perpetrating against the approximately three million Syrians who have fled to Turkey.
A detailed report on Syrian women refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants in Turkey, issued as far back as 2014 by the Association for Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed (known in Turkish as Mazlumder), tells of early and forced marriages, polygamy, sexual harassment, human trafficking, prostitution, and rape that criminals inflicted upon Syrians in Turkey.
According to the Mazlumder report, Syrians are sexually exploited by those who take advantage of their destitution. Children, especially girls, suffer most.
Evidence, both witnessed and forensic, indicates that in every city where Syrian refugees have settled, prostitution has drastically increased. Young women between the ages of 15 and 20 are most commonly prostituted, but girls as young as thirteen are also exploited.
Secil Erpolat, a lawyer with the Women’s Rights Commission of the Bar Association in the Turkish province of Batman, said that many young Syrian girls are offered between 20 and 50 Turkish liras ($7-$18). Sometimes their clients pay them with food or other goods for which they are desperate.