Turkish lawyers criticize government proposal seeking restrictions on alimony

WOMEN MARCH AGAINST VIOLENCE: Thousands of women marched on İstanbul's İstiklal Avenue near Taksim Square for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, ABC reported . The march was officially banned under the state of emergency rules, issued after the July 2016 coup attempt. The heavy security caused a tense atmosphere before the protest. Turkish police told group that the march would not be allowed, but the women persisted, ABC said. But women protesters still did not walk the entire avenue, planned for the march, after a further police barricade stopped them. There, a spokesperson for the group read a statement to the media, quoted by ABC as saying that women faced violence from "husbands, fathers, lovers, ex-lovers, teachers, clients, police officers."

Turkish lawyers in an interview criticized a government proposal to restrict the duration of alimony, saying it aimed to stop women from seeking divorce, forcing them to stay in abusive relationships.

Speaking to the Bianet news website, lawyers Ceren Akkaya and Asli Pasinli said poverty rates among women were high in Turkey and that any restrictions on alimony would risk forcing women to stay in abusive marriages.

Article 176 of Turkey’s Civil Code stipulates that a spouse who risks poverty after divorce and who is not responsible for the marriage’s failure “has the right to demand alimony for an unlimited period of time.” This will cease to be paid only after the claimant remarries, or if one of the parties dies. The claimant also loses the right to alimony if the risk of poverty disappears

However, a proposal put forward by the Justice Ministry seeks to award a maximum of 12 years’ alimony if the couple was married 10 years or more. In cases where the couple was married for two years or less, the alimony is set for five years.

The proposal has been under discussion since 2016, and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said they intend to send it to parliament for passage after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan approves it.

Akkaya and Pasinli said currently the average alimony was TL 300 ($22) a month, which was already very low. In many cases ex-husbands refused to pay this amount, pushing women and children deeper into poverty. According to a recent report published by United Nations Women, more than 50 percent of men do not pay the alimony ordered by the court.

They added that even if the legislation had not yet been passed, it was being implemented in practice as judges were enforcing a restriction on the duration of alimony in divorce cases since the proposal had been made four years ago.

Both lawyers agreed that in a country like Turkey, where women have difficulty finding work and where there is a massive pay gap between men and women, alimony is important for the survival of women and their children.

In support of the proposed legislation, government officials pointed out that in European countries such as Germany and Sweden, the duration of alimony was also restricted.

However, opponents said that in such countries, women receive government support and a wide range of free social services as well as higher salaries.

“If the government is planning on introducing restrictions to the duration of alimony, then they also need to think about developing policies concerning childcare and free day-care centers for working mothers. They need to think about policies to eradicate poverty among women before taking away their alimony,” said Akkaya and Pasinli.

Speaking to DW Turkish service, women’s rights activist Yelda Koçak said many Turkish women were married at a young age and did not have the opportunity to get a degree or work during the time they were married. “Women don’t get paid for domestic labor, and in most cases they don’t have economic independence. Taking away their alimony is another way of condemning them to a life of poverty,” she said.

Retired judge Eray Karınca said alimony aimed to protect the disadvantaged person in the marriage and that limiting it to a certain period defeated its purpose.

Women who live in rural areas where remarriage is not an option in particular will need long-term financial support to take care of their children.

Authorities previously said the restriction on alimony would reduce divorce rates in the country.

Turkey’s minister of family, labor and social services Zehra Zümrüt Selçuk said in March 2019 that the government proposed a change to the legislation “to stop the rising divorce rate and to create a peaceful and healthy family environment.”

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