Child Marriage Key Concepts and Glossary

By Selen DOĞAN

Abortion: The removal of a foetus with surgical operation in case of an unwanted pregnancy or if the mother’s health is in danger. Women who get pregnant at an early age face a greater risk of injury or death.

Adolescence: The transitional period from childhood to adulthood; a period in which children get prepared for the future, develop their skills. In the whole world millions of children pass their adolescence married or with children.

Alimony: In the case of early marriage women cannot demand alimony from their husband if they get a divorce because the marriage is not legal. If it is not a civil marriage the court cannot award marriage compensation.

Best interests of the child: According to Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

Betrothal in the cradle: It is an oral contract that is made between families while children are still babies so as to marry them off to each other in the future. It is still practiced in Turkey. It is illegal.

Birth control: Women married at a very early age face a higher risk of being infected by sexually transmitted diseases as they do not have sufficient knowledge and experience regarding reproductive health. These individuals do not decide themselves on when they will have children or how many children they will have.

Bride burning: A form of domestic violence in India; the attempt to murder or to injure a woman by burning her with hot oil and then making it look like an accident. If the young bride is not loved or approved by the husband’s family, or behaves in a way considered disobedient, the family burns her and then makes it to look like it was the woman’s fault, who ‘while making food in the kitchen became the victim of her own clumsiness and poured hot oil on herself’; such alleged accidents end up in injuries or death.

Bride exchange: Although not as common as it was in the past, this still exists as a form of marriage. It is illegal. In fact it is a form of barter; a girl comes into a family as a bride, which then has to marry off one of its girls to a male from the family to which the bride belonged. In the practice of bride exchange the majority of the brides are very young.

Bride kidnapping: A tradition of forced marriage aimed mostly at young women. Men abduct the woman they want to marry by force and detain her. The woman, now dishonoured, is forcibly married because she is made to believe that she has no other choice than marriage. It is a common practice in Central Asia.

Bride wealth: A practice that can be seen almost everywhere in Turkey. It has no legal validity. Families may marry off their girls in exchange for bride wealth, aiming at material gains.

Child: Children are people who are guided by people of age because they have not yet fully developed. Children are individuals enjoying indispensable rights. Children enjoy fundamental human rights despite not being of age; they are entitled to these rights throughout their childhood as well. These rights are indispensable, and cannot be suspended or transferred.

Child bride: Any marriage which is done before the individuals complete their development is an ‘early marriage’; every woman who is married off before she reaches age 18 is a ‘child bride’.

Child friendly city: A city where urban design has in mind the need for children to live in a healthy environment, play games, meet with their peers, and have access to fundamental rights, such as protection from violence.

Child friendly school: A school to which students are enthusiastic to go, where teachers and other staff members work hard; and which is open to participatory, shared, and outward development.

Child labour: A child bride that is married off at a young age is often responsible for housework; she is forced to assist in family works, e.g. in the garden/fields; she is obliged to take care of the older members of the family (often disabled or elders); she is expected to take care of all children of the family along with her own children; she is expected to accept unconditionally her husband’s sexual desire whether she wants it or not. A child bride that does all the above free of charge is a child worker.

 Child marriage: A marriage in which a woman and a man are married;

  • While still in childhood, without enjoying their childhood to the full,
  • Before reaching a certain mental and physical level of development, and without having the necessary maturity for marriage,
  • Before reaching an adequate level of knowledge and awareness regarding their rights and get to a point where they can use these rights,
  • Without being informed about the physical and emotional conditions that marriage will bring,
  • Without knowing the judicial status that they stand to gain or lose with marriage,
  • Under pressure, facing terror, violence, threats and intimidation,
  • With someone they do not love, they do not want
  • With someone much older than them
  • Before their 18th birthday

Child Rights Monitoring Committee: A committee established in 2008 under the auspices of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, with the participation of representatives from all political party groups. The Committee’s task is to raise awareness in the parliament by bringing forward issues raised by child rights advocates.

 Child participation: This means listening and paying attention to children’s views and their participation in decision making. It is necessary that children participate in decisions for every issue that concerns them.

Child pornography: Visual, audio or written material with images of child sexual content for possession or distribution.

Child trafficking: The sexual and commercial exploitation of children for material gain.

Civil law: In Turkey women and men cannot get married if they have not completed the 17th year of their age. In fact, this age is still very early for getting married. The signature campaign initiated by the Flying Broom with the aim of changing the law gained the support of 55 thousand people, who demanded the raising of the minimum marriage age.

Commercial sexual exploitation: Marrying off children is commercial sexual exploitation.

 Committee on the Rights of the Child: It is a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by states that have ratified the Convention. It meets three times a year in Geneva.

Conditional cash transfer: A conditional help programme for the most impoverished segment of the population that due to economic hardships cannot benefit from the basic health and education services, do not enjoy any kind of social security and do not have a regular income. It is an effective means for the prevention of early marriages.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: CEDAW, as it is abbreviated, is an international convention, prepared by the UN and entered into force in 1981. Turkey ratified the Convention in 1984. The State Parties commit themselves to ensure elimination of discriminatory patterns and behaviours in all areas of life.

Convention on the Rights of the Child: It is a convention adopted by the UN in 1989, signed by Turkey in 1990 and put into force in 1995. By force of the Turkish constitution international conventions are above internal legislation; national laws must be in accordance with these conventions.

 Cousin marriage: This is still very common in Turkey. Women and men within the same family, who seem appropriate for each other, get engaged from an early age under the pretext that property is better kept in the family or similar such excuses; marriage takes place soon thereafter.

Co-wifery: Generally in early marriages the spouses have a big age difference. A husband who is bored of his wife because she does not meet his expectations or because she faces problems in getting pregnant due to her young age, sees no harm in finding a second wife.

Death of mother and baby: The risk of death for both the mother and the baby, before and after childbirth, is four times higher among young pregnant women compared to the risk faced by pregnant women at a later age.

 Declaration of the Rights of the Child: The realisation of the need to establish the awareness that children have different physical, physiological, behavioural and psychological characteristics from adults, that they grow up and develop continuously, that childcare is a public issue, and that everyone should shoulder this responsibility with scientific approaches was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 20 November 1959.

 Disability: A situation that limits a person’s physical or mental activities. Girl children may be married off so they can take care of a disabled individual.

 Discrimination: Patriarchal societies apply two types of discrimination as far as marriage is concerned. The first is pressure towards unmarried women; it is believed that having a husband is a kind of protection for women. The second derives from stereotypes towards married women who do not conform to widely-held norms; women who do not behave according to the gender roles assigned to them are judged by society. This discrimination is continually reinforced through popular media.

Divorce: Marriage should end before the law. In the case of early marriages divorce within the first five years is relatively common. If the marriage is not formal, a legal divorce cannot take place, therefore child brides cannot enjoy the right to compensation or alimony.

Domestic violence: The risk of physical, economic, sexual violence is higher in child marriages. Awareness among child brides and knowledge of their rights are not enough to stem the tide of violence.

Dowry: It describes house ware and ornaments, as well as clothing that are collected for the girl children since their babyhood and are given to them when they get married. Dowry not only amounts to an early promulgation of marriage, but also ignores the right to not get married.

Drug addiction: Disappointment, loneliness, poverty, misery, violence, lovelessness, feeling unimportant, are among the reasons that can lead individuals married at a young age to drug addiction.

 Early birth: The possibility of an early (premature) birth is higher among 19-year-old or younger women. The younger the age the higher the risk since the reproductive organs are not adequately developed.

Early marriage: According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child an individual under the age of 18 is a child. The marriage of such an individual, even if accepted by national law, is considered a child marriage.

Early pregnancy: A mother-to-be whose body has not been developed enough so as to give birth, encounters several difficulties that put her life in risk before, just after the birth, as well as later.

ECPAT International: An international network which organises the fight against child trafficking with the aim of child prostitution, pornography and sexual intercourse.

Emergency line: A telephone number that allows individuals faced with the threat of early marriage to call and ask for protection or health, psychological and legal support. In Turkey the only helpline which can be used in such cases and in similar situations of violence is Alo 183, introduced by the Ministry for Family and Social Policies.

Family: A social unit where a mother, a father, children and sometimes family elders and close relatives live together. Engaging and marrying off children before they grow up constitutes an abuse of parental responsibility. The family is responsible for protecting the child and preparing it for the future and not for leading it to exploitation, violence, lack of education, diseases etc.

Family planning: Children forced to early marriages have almost no knowledge about the importance of family planning and the necessity of contraception methods. The majority of the couples who demonstrate uncontrolled reproduction behaviour are early married couples.

Family practice: A practice within the framework of the welfare state, which ensures that all citizens shall benefit from health services. One of the duties of family physicians is to observe whether child marriages are taking place in families for which they are responsible, as well as to inform the relevant authorities of the situation in order to prevent it from taking place.

Family reunification: The case in which, for example, a German or someone living in Germany with a foreign spouse, gets married in order to get residence permit. The age limit of 18 years has been imposed so that cases of women being married off at an early age, and therefore victims of forced migration, are avoided. Family reunification is practiced in some European countries.

Famine: Poverty and famine, especially in less developed countries, are one of the reasons for early marriages. Families who want to unburden themselves of the responsibility of taking care of their girls by marrying them off and families who want to save their daughters from famine and misery may decide on their behalf to marry them off at an early age.

Flying Broom: A women’s organisation, the complete name of which is Flying Broom Women Communication and Research Association. Since 1996 Flying Broom has been working on strengthening women, promoting democracy and advancing civil society. In 2006 it has added to this work the topic of child marriages bringing the issue to the fore across the country and raising awareness.

Forced marriage: Compulsion to marriage by individuals, the society and the family by means of violence, insistence, intimidation, terrorisation, emotional pressure and threats.

Forms of abuse: There are emotional, physical, sexual and economic forms of child abuse. Girl children in early marriages may be victims of all forms of child abuse.

Forms of marriage: In Turkey prearranged marriages, marriages by abduction, marriages as compensation for a murder of a family murder can still take place. Newer forms of marriage, such as marriage abroad, marriage for migration purposes, or marriages on television programmes can be added to older marriage patterns.

Freedom: The ability of a person to make their own decisions on individual, social, political, economic matters etc. Likewise marriage should take place with someone’s free will.

Game: Girl children have the right to live their childhood, therefore they have the right to play games. A forced marriage at the play age constitutes a breach of this right.

Gender: Socially constructed and assigned roles for women and men. Gender corresponds to culturally and socially established roles. These roles determine behavioural patterns, responsibilities, sharing order, access to resources and privileges.

Girl children’s poverty: Since girls married at a young age are deprived of education and employment opportunities, and since marriage does not offer economic guarantee, poverty is often the case. As for the poverty inside the family houses, it can be described as one of the basic motives that would push the family to marry off the children.

Girls not Brides: A global network to end child marriage. Flying Broom is a member as well. The network is based in the UK.

 HIV/AIDS: Early marriages lead to AIDS, caused by HIV, passing from hazard groups to the general population. The percentage of people infected by HIV is quite high among people married at a young age. Yakın Ertürk, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, has noted that strategies against HIV/AIDS are developed in a way that combines efforts to raise the legal marriageable age and to make forced marriages illegal.

Honour: One of the excuses put forward by families in order to marry off their girl children. Girl children are seen as family’s burden of honour.

Honour killings: A forms of victimisation of women and girl children because of their gender.

Imam marriage: Imam marriage is conducted according to religious principles. It is more correct to say ‘religious ceremony’ instead of ‘imam marriage’ so as not legitimise it. If only a religious ceremony and no civil marriage take place the union is not considered valid.

Incest: Sexual abuse of the child by her/his father or by first grade male relatives who live in the family. Incest may be both a cause and a consequence of early marriage.

International Day of the Girl Child: 11 October

International Day for Prevention of Child Abuse: 19 November.

Juvenile justice system: This is one part of a broad range of means to prevent child criminality, and includes child courts along with the police, prosecutors and employees of the court, as well as official institutions and organisations such as penal institutions. Institutions of the juvenile justice system that deal with services related to health, education, social support and welfare work in collaboration with public or civil institutions and organisations that provide preventive and protective services, such as support to the victim and the witness.

Labour participation: Women who are married at an early age have difficulty benefiting from work opportunities; they are employed as cheap labour and in unsafe conditions, because they did not have the opportunity to complete their education or professional education.

Law for the Protection of the Child: Regulations of the procedures and principles in relation to the protection of children in need of protection and of children who are inclined to criminality, and to guaranteeing their rights and welfare.

Loss of mother: When young girls who have lost their mother, or live away from her, or whose father has remarried, are badly treated by their stepmother, they think that they are not wanted at home and therefore view marriage as a solution. They may see marriage as salvation, but they cannot know what they may experience after marriage.

 Malnutrition: An adolescent woman needs 2500 calories a day. In pregnancy she should get 50 more calories per gained kilo. Malnourished mothers give birth to children which are on average eight centimetres shorter.

Marriage: The union of the lives of women and men before the law after having reached a level of physical, mental and cognitive abilities and a certain level of maturity. The union takes place with their independent will and full consent, and with a partner they have chosen themselves.

Marriageable age: For individuals who want to get married and for whom there are no obstacles in that regard, one cannot say there is an “ideal marriage age,” because the age at which one feels ready to get married may vary from one individual to another. Adults can marry at any age they wish.

Marriage annulment case: Individuals who are forced into marriage can open a marriage annulment case. Marriage annulment cases differ from divorce cases; the annulled marriage is deemed as having never taken place.

Migration: The migration of a family or an individual of their own will in order to settle elsewhere, as well as displacement and so-called forced migration are important factors that lead to child marriage.

Motherhood: Early marriage means early motherhood. Child brides who are married off before they reach the necessary level of physical, emotional, mental development find it difficult to adjust suddenly to the role of motherhood in an appropriate way, as is expected of them by society. They experience a lot of physical and psychological problems until they grow up enough so as to handle this role.

Negligence: The failure to meet the basic physical and emotional needs of a child, such as nutrition, shelter, protection and love. It may have negative implications for the child’s health and development.

Neighbourhood pressure: Women may decide to get married at an early age because they are threatened by the society with comments, such as ‘you will be on the shelf’, ‘you will be lonely’, ‘you will be exposed to more dangers,’ or because they do not want to feel this very pressure. This is also a form of forced marriage.

Network against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: A network of civil society organisations and individuals established in Turkey with the aim of eliminating child-selling, child prostitution, pornography and all kinds of commercial sexual exploitation of the child.

‘No to Child Brides’ Platform: It is a platform which was established by 63 civil society organisations and university departments from 14 provinces, aiming at raising awareness about child marriages in Turkey and mobilising relevant institutions and people for the solution of this social problem. The establishment of the platform was announced in 11 October 2012, the International Day of the Girl Child as declared by the UN.

Non-formal education: Education given to those who have not benefited from formal education in various fields including reading, writing and professional training. Many women who were married off at an early age and were once deprived of education opportunities can benefit from non-formal learning.

Notification obligation: Whoever witnesses any kind of child abuse, including child marriage, has the obligation to notify the relevant authorities. It is very important for the prevention of child marriages.

Obligatory education: An uninterrupted 12-year period of obligatory education is very important for the protection of girl children from early marriage.

Obstetric Fistula: A disease owed to pregnancy at a young age. In women who give birth without being old enough so as to handle a pregnancy, a fistula (hole) may be created between the vagina and the bladder after the childbirth, resulting in involuntary urination. Women suffering from obstetric fistula become ostracised because of the bad smell; their husbands divorce them.

Opinion leader: Attitudes of people such as the headman, the imam, the teacher, the midwife of the area may be key in a child’s being married off. These thought leaders can prevent early marriages or, on the contrary, cause them to happen.

Paedophilia: The tendency to have sexual intercourse with children. A number of academics define child marriage as the ‘institutionalisation of paedophilia’.

 Panic attack: A mental disorder caused by marriage at an early age, among other factors.

Partnership Network for Preventing Violence Against the Child: This has been established with the support of UNICEF. Its aim is to facilitate and support rights-based monitoring and advocacy activities for the prevention of violence against children, conducted by national and local civil society organisations, universities, and professional organizations advocating children rights in Turkey.

Peer education: Unofficial or scheduled educational events that aim at the development of educated and eager young people through what they have achieved alongside their peers (young people at the same age, in the same environment or people with whom they share common interests) through shared knowledge, attitudes and skills and at acquiring knowledge about how to protect their health on their own. Peer education can be used as a means to prevent marriage at an early age, when role models are more influential.

Polygamy: In the Turkish context it is more correct to use the term “polygyny” as only men can have many wives at the same time – even if it is illegal. In such marriages the “co-wives” are generally minors, because it is thought that only at such ages women can tolerate this “tradition”.

Prenuptial agreement: It is an agreement made before the marriage, defining issues such as how the couple will, in case of divorce, divide their movable and immovable property, as well as their savings, in other words, their marital property. In Turkey, with the alterations made to the Civil Law for marriages after 2002 the property of the couple shall be equally divided in case of divorce.

Rape: A sexual attack against/assault physical integrity. Women who are victims of rape may be married off immediately, at the same time –especially in extended families- are married off immediately in order to prevent this crime.

Prostitution: Prostitution in exchange for money is not a person’s own choice. Child brides may also be forced into prostitution for several reasons; being abandoned by their husband or being forced to leave the house, impoverishment, inability to take care of their children, failure to find a job because they are uneducated and unskilled are such reasons.

Refugee: A person seeking shelter in another country because they have suffered war, violence discrimination etc. in their country. It is known that in refugee camps child marriage is a very common practice.

Right to choose: All people have the right to choose freely the person they are going to marry. In marriages at an early age the majority of women are not the ones who ‘choose’ but rather the ones who ‘are chosen’

Right to education: One of a woman’s fundamental human rights. In Turkey, as of 2013 the percentage of illiterate women over the age of 15 is 8.4, while for men it is 1.7.

Sabancı Foundation: A foundation which has been working since 2010 on the issue of child brides with civil society organisations and donors; it provides support for the strengthening and enhancing of the work done at the local, national and international level to put an end to child marriages.

School: A place where children can develop. All children should attend school.

Schooling of girl children: It is one of the most important steps for the prevention of child marriages. Uninterrupted education means postponing marriage, and therefore eliminating child brides.

Sex: Certain physical or biological characteristics that are given from birth and make someone a woman or a man.

 Sex-selected abortion: In patriarchal societies, where giving birth to a boy is extoled, a prospective mother who is expecting a daughter may be pressured to have an abortion. People at an early age cannot stand up against something like this; girl brides are often the victims.

Slavery: Forcing individuals at an early age to get married is a form of modern day slavery.

Suicide: One of the reasons for suicide among women is forced marriage at early age.

Toy: The selection of toys which are not gendered (instead of dolls and tea sets for girls; tools and cars for boys etc. toys stripped of gender identity should be preferred) will prevent early marriages in an indirect way.

Trauma: Having their first sexual intercourse within an early marriage may be a life-long trauma for girl children married with a man much older than them, with whom in most cases they have not met before.

 Vaginismus: A disorder related to early marriage and occurs as a result of the beginning of sexual relations without being sufficiently acquainted: the muscles in the vagina tense suddenly by reason of stress and do not allow sexual penetration.

 Wedding: A legal contract between individuals who are eligible to marriage in terms of age, reason, consciousness, who are aware of the results of such a move and wish to get married.

 Women’s human rights: Women are human beings, but just because they are women they are more often victims of human rights violations.

Unemployment: Women who have not received quality education and have not developed their professional skills because of an early marriage and ensuing related reasons are not employed as registered and paid employees; they are not even counted as unemployed.

 UNICEF: United Nations Children’s Fund; an agency of the United Nations that specialises in supporting the implementation of child rights.

Universal Children’s Day: 20 November

This glossary is interactive. Please feel free to send us additional items to be involved by the glossary.

 This glossary takes part within the “Child Brides Set”, published by Flying Broom (in Turkish)



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