6,505 babies born to underage mothers in Turkey in 2023

Turkey recorded a significant number of underage births in 2023, with 6,505 births among girls aged 15-17 and 130 births to girls under 15, according to the latest report by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).

The report’s findings included that among the 130 births to girls under 15, four were giving birth for the second time. Additionally, within the 15-17 age group, there were 535 second births and 31 third births.

Legal experts have raised alarms over these figures, emphasizing the lack of preventive measures. “Every individual under 18 years of age is a child, and any sexual behavior involving a child is a crime,” said Çağla Gül Bulut, a lawyer and the secretary general of the Istanbul Bar Association’s child rights center.

Last year’s figures are part of a longer troubling trend, with 18,165 babies born to underage mothers in Turkey between 2002 and 2021. In the same period, a total of 1,893,005 babies were born to mothers under the age of 19.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), underage marriage is still a controversial issue in Turkey as it prevents girls’ access to proper education and makes them vulnerable to violence and poverty.

Although the legal age of marriage is 18 in Turkey, minors can marry at the age of 17 with parental consent. 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.

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