A recent report revealed that in the last two decades 18,165 babies were born to underage mothers in Turkey.
The report was drafted by Republican People’s Party lawmaker Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi and published on Monday by Turkish media. According to the report a total of 117 babies were born to girls younger than 15 years of age in 2021 alone. Moreover, 7,190 babies were born to girls younger than 17 last year.
Eastern Şanlıurfa province had the highest number of underage mothers, followed by Istanbul and Diyarbakır.
“These numbers indicate that there we have a serious social problem in our hands,” İlgezdi said in a statement to the media. “Thousands of young girls with little to no education are becoming mothers. This is the sad truth about Turkey.”
İlgezdi added that nearly 60,000 underage girls had gotten married in 2021 and emphasized that underage marriage was abuse and paved the way to teenage pregnancies and births.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), underage marriage is still a controversial issue in Turkey as it prevents proper education for girls and makes them vulnerable to violence and poverty.
Although the legal age of marriage is 18 in Turkey, some minors can marry with parental consent at the age of 17. In the event there is a “compelling reason,” some minors are granted permission by a court for marriage at 16.
Revisions in Turkey’s civil law have also caused an increase in underage marriages. Until 2015 religious marriages were permitted only if a civil marriage had already taken place. Religious authorities who conducted marriages without a civil marriage certificate could be sentenced to prison. However the Constitutional Court abolished this requirement in 2015, and two years later marriage certificates issued by religious authorities were also recognized by the state.
Critics slammed the decision, saying religious authorities were more prone to turning a blind eye to underage marriages.
Hospitals were previously criticized for failing to disclose underage pregnancies to authorities as required by law.
Underage marriages and pregnancies are especially high among migrants and refugees. According to a report prepared by Save the Children, 50 percent of Syrian women were married before 18. Midwives in southeastern Turkey said they frequently saw pregnant girls who were 14 or 15.