Where would you like your daughter to be when she is 13? In school, or in bed with a grown man? The answer to this question is largely beyond argument in much of the world. In Islamic societies, however — including non-Arab and theoretically secular Turkey — the answer is anyone’s guess. Usually in such states, the police power of the government does not fight the patriarchal tradition; instead, it supports it.
Turkey’s former president, Abdullah Gül, incumbent Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s former ally and co-founder of the party that has ruled Turkey since 2002, was a 30-year-old man when he married his wife Hayrünnisa when she was 15. Gül, nominated for the presidency by Erdoğan, was Turkey’s first Islamist president.
Conservative Turks, instead of questioning Gül’s marriage to a child, cheered his rise to the presidency. This author was privately — but not politely — warned several times by senior politicians against bringing up the issue in his column in another newspaper.
According to Turkish Philanthropy Funds (TPF), 40% of girls under the age of 18 in Turkey are forced into marriage. TPF found that the Turkish national average of female high school dropouts was 56%. It further found that early marriage is seen in families with a low education level. “Low education” means almost all of Turkey: The average schooling in the country is a mere 6.5 years. In 45 Turkish provinces, the schooling rate is below the national average.