Syrian girls in Turkey are being married off by their families at increasing rates to cope with the economic pressures of the pandemic, a troubling new report has found.
The report by the Turkish branch of Freedom United partner organization ECPAT, which works across the world against the sexual exploitation of children, details how desperate Syrian families are resorting to selling their daughters off to support themselves.
According to Ezgi Yaman, ECPAT Turkey’s secretary-general, these girls often become the second or third wife of older Turkish men, whether through formal or informal marriage.
In cases where the marriage is informal, and therefore not recognized by the Turkish government, these Syrian girls have no legal protection and are doubly vulnerable to abuse.
But the survival strategy lessens the financial burden of Syrian families during the pandemic and allows them to pay rent—in some cases, giving their daughter directly to their landlord.
The Independent reports:
“At the Turkish landlord’s house, sometimes the daughters live in servitude and it is labour exploitation but most cases also involve sexual exploitation. And sometimes the landlord unofficially marries the Syrian daughter. We can’t provide statistics because they are happening unofficially. Also even if the family doesn’t want it to happen, they are underreporting incidents due to being afraid of losing their legal documents or legal status. They don’t want to go back to Syria.
“Interviews with Syrian women who were married in Turkish refugee camps as children highlighted that many Syrian girls forced into these marriages are ‘exploited in every way’ and in some cases, families of the men who have ‘married’ these children feel entitled to be able to exploit them as well.”
The report draws renewed attention to legislation dubbed the “marry-your-rapist” bill, which was debated in parliament in January.
The bill would suspend the sentences of men accused of sex with minors if they marry their victim, which activists have decried as legitimizing child marriage and rape.
ECPAT argues the bill would put refugee children at particular risk, of which Turkey has the highest number in the world—most of them from neighboring Syria.
Despite repeated criticism from local and international NGOs, Ms. Yaman argued that the bill is likely to return to parliament in the future, having been delayed only because of the pandemic.
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