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Turkey: Forced marriage in Turkey; outcome when a woman refuses to marry the designated man; outcome when a woman elopes with another man; attitude of state and availability of state protection (July 2001 - September 2004)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 28 September 2004
Citation / Document Symbol TUR43000.E
Reference 7
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Turkey: Forced marriage in Turkey; outcome when a woman refuses to marry the designated man; outcome when a woman elopes with another man; attitude of state and availability of state protection (July 2001 - September 2004), 28 September 2004, TUR43000.E, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

On 1 January 2002, a new Turkish Civil Code that enshrined the equality of men and women within the family came into force (MEI 11 Jan. 2002; Country Reports 2002 31 mar. 2003, Sec.4; Women's Enews 13 Jan. 2002; WWHR Apr. 2002; Panos 4 Jan. 2002). In a 2002 report, the Istanbul-Based non-governmental organization Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR) indicated that the new Code, by abrogating the inferior status of women in the family as stated in the previous (1926) Civil Code, embodies a "new approach to the family and to women's role in the family" (Apr. 2002). This information is corroborated by two sources that refer respectively to "revolutionary changes" and "profound effect on the lives of Turkish Women" brought about by the introduction of the new Civil Code (Women's Enews 13 Jan. 2002; MEI 11 Jan. 2002).

Although identified as a significant step in progress towards gender equality, the revised Civil Code is not perceived as a panacea to end gender discrimination and violations of women's rights in a country where historically customs and religious practices have controlled the lives of women and have accorded male family members the rights to make decisions, including those about forced or early marriages, concerning the lives of female family members (WWHR Apr. 2002; MEI 11 Jan. 2002; Panos 4 Jan. 2002).

Forced marriages

A 2004 Amnesty International (AI) report on violence against women in Turkey indicates the following distinction between forced and arranged marriages:

Forced marriage, in contrast to arranged marriage, has been described as 'any marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties and [which] may involve coercion, mental abuse, emotional blackmail, and intense family or social pressure. In the most extreme cases, it may also involve physical violence, abuse, abduction, detention, and murder of the individual concerned' (2 June 2004).

Based on research in the eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey, WWHR reported that 50.8 per cent of women "were married without their consent although the consent of both the woman and the man is a precondition for marriage according to Turkish Law" (Apr. 2002). Corroborating information on the prevalence of forced marriage in Turkey could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Amnesty International characterizes forced marriage as a form of violence against women by family members, that takes various expressions within Turkish Society: "early marriage, berdel (the barter of women to avoid paying dowries and other marriage expenses) and besik kertmesi (a form of arranged marriage in which families barter newborn daughters, forcing them to marry as soon as they are considered old enough)" (2 June 2004).

Young girls living in rural areas, specifically in eastern Anatolia, face difficulties, in trying to oppose forced marriage since under tribal custom they are considered the property of either their father before marriage or by their husband afterwards and if they resist social pressure from the community, "they do so at their peril" (MEI 11 Jan.2002). Similarly, according to one of the leaders of WWHR, rural women are likely to be marginalized in the context of changes induced by the new Civil Code, including the raising of the legal age for marriage to 18, as they "must contend with traditions and customs, [including underage marriage] that have little to do with the legislative revisions their urban sisters enjoy" (Women's Enews 13 Jan. 2002).

However, an article published by the London-based non-governmental organization Panos Institute in January 2002, indicated that child marriage did not exist only in "Turkey's conservative heartland". The same article reported "the story of a school in the Europeanised west of the country where more than 20 girls aged between 10 and 13 had been married off in exchange for bride price" that took place just after the new Civil Code took effect (Panos 4 Jan.2002). Middle East International (MEI) reported in January 2002 that many arrests were made by the authorities of the Western province of Aydin after finding that a large group of girls between ages 10 and 14 were being deprived of schooling due to forced early marriages (11 Jan. 2002).

According to Amnesty International, early marriages are tied to the level of education of a girl as well as to the economic situation of her family: "The lower her family's income and her level of education, the more likely she is to be forced into an early marriage" (AI 2 June 2004). This information could not be corroborated by sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Amnesty International pointed out that forced marriages can also be a means to get a remission in cases of sexual assault, rape or abduction (2 June 2004). Prohibiting such practice was part of the debate around the draft revised Turkish Penal Code (AI 2 June 2004; BBC 15 Sept. 2004). In a analysis of the new Turkish Penal Code draft Law, WWHR calls on Turkish authorities to suppress Articles 326 (Active Penitence and Mitigating Circumstances) and 327 (Active Penitence Necessitating the Suspension of Criminal Proceedings or the Sentence) from the draft Law as they would allow such a practice to continue (2003).

Opposing forced marriage can lead to death (AI 2 June 2004). A high rate of suicide is reported among young girls forced into marriages (Country Reports 2003 25 Fe. 2004; Sec.4). No additional information on the consequences of refusal to forced marriages could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

No information specific to elopement could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Extra-marital relations

Although under Turkish law there is nothing to prevent couples from cohabitating without being married, women living outside urban centres are exposed to intense social pressure profiling extra-marital relationships as a taboo (WWHR Apr. 2002).

Honour killings of those suspected of being involved in extra-marital illicit relationships is a widespread practice in southeastern and eastern regions of Turkey inhabited mainly by Kurds (Off Our Backs Mar. 2000). According to The Guardian, the southeastern region of Turkey, where "female[s] fall victim to customs dating back generations" is where honour killings most often occur (5 July 2004).

A human rights activist interviewed by Radio Netherlands stated that honour killings are widely practised within Turkey, and indicated that "[o]ver the past year [2003], at least 10 cases were covered by the media, and these are only the ones we hear of in public. There are lot which probably do not reach us." (1 Sept. 2004).

In 2004, a 24-year-old unmarried woman from the poor and conservative south-east region of Turkey was shot to death allegedly by her brother, because she was pregnant out of wedlock (Women's Enews 23 July 2004). In 2003, a 22-year-old woman from south-east Turkey, who was denied police protection, was shot to death because she was involved in an extra-marital relationship (The Observer 12 Sept. 2004). Other specific cases of honour killings could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

However, Amnesty International reported that in 2003 and 2004, life sentences were imposed for the first time in cases of honour killings (2 June 2004). Life sentence could be embedded in the legal framework: as at mid-September 2004, the Turkish Parliament has "approved an article that asked for a life sentence for those convicted of honour killings" in the context of the ongoing debate around the new Turkish Penal Code. (Turkish Daily News 16 Sept. 2004).

Further, an ongoing intense debate sparked over the criminalization of adultery is widely covered by sources consulted by the research Directorate (The New York Times 20 Sept. 2004; ibid. 17 Sept. 2004 ;BBC 16 Sept. 2004; ibid.15 Sept. 2004; The Independent 21 Sept. 2004; The Turkish Daily News 16 Sept. 2004; ibid. 15 Sept. 2004; The Times 20 Sept. 2004; Le Monde 15 Sept. 2004; RFI 14 Sept. 2004; The Guardian 6 Sept. 2004). On 15 September 2004, the Prime Minister of Turkey, caught between its conservative base pushing him towards the criminalization of adultery and the directives of the European Union (EU) which Turkey wants to join, had revoked not only the controversial proposed adultery law, but also the entire Penal Code reform in order to "further study it", which threatened to compromise its membership to the EU (The New York Times 20 Sept. 2004; ibid. 17 Sept. 2004; BBC 16 Sept. 2004; The Times 20 Sept. 2004; The Independent 21 Sept. 2004).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 2 June 2004. Turkey: Women Confronting Family Violence (AI Index: EUR 44/013/2004). [Accessed 21 Sept. 2004]

BBC. 16 September 2004. "Key Turkey Reform Bill Withdrawn." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]
_____. 15 September 2004. Jonny Dymond. "Analysis: Turkey, Adultery and the EU." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003. 25 February 2004. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 17 Sept. 2004]

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002. 31 March 2003. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 21 Sept. 2004]

The Guardian [London]. 6 September 2004. Helena Smith. "Turkey Split by Plan to Criminalise Adultery." [Accessed 17 Sept. 2004]
_____. 5 July 2004.Helena Smith. "Turkey Gets to Grips with 'Honour Killings'." [Accessed 17 Sept. 2004]

The Independent [London]. 21 September 2004. Stephen Castle."Stalemate over Penal Code threatens Turkey's EU Bid." [Accessed 22 Sept. 2004]

Middle East International (MEI) [London]. 11 January 2002. No. 666. Nicole Pope. "New Civil Code."

Le Monde [Paris].15 September 2004. "Le gouvernement turc renonce à son projet de loi pénalisant l'adultère." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

The New York Times. 20 September 2004. "Adultery Law Reveal Rifts in Turkey." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]
_____. 17 September 2004. Susan Sachs. "Adultery as a Criminal Offense May Still Have a Life in Turkey." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

The Observer [London]. 12 September 2004. "Outcry as Turks Plan Law to Ban Adultery." [Accessed 17 Sept. 2004]

Off Our Backs [Washington]. March 2002. Vol. 32. Efsa Kuraner."Celebrations of Love: Women Denounce Honor Killings in Turkey." (NEXIS)

Panos Institute [London]. 4 January 2002. Serpil Karacan. "Will New Women's Rights Correct Turkish Wrongs?" [Accessed 21 Sept. 2004]

Radio France Internationale (RFI). 14 September 2004. "L'adultère ne sera finalement pas puni de prison." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

Radio Netherlands. 1 September 2004. Robert Chesal."Staying Faithful in Turkey.". [ Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

The Times [London]. 20 September 2004. Anthony Browne. "Turkish Bid to Join EU in Chaos as Reforms Dropped.". [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]
_____. 15 September 2004. Suna Herdem. " Turkey Drops Plans to Jail Adulterers after Protest by EU." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

Turkish Daily News [Ankara].16 September 2004."Retreat on Adultery Accelerates TCK Debates." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]
_____. 15 September 2004. Nejat Basar. "Why Adultery?" [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

Women's Enews (WeNews) [New York City]. 23 July 2004. Yigal Schleifer. "Turkey Doing Little to Protect Women's Lives." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]
_____. 13 January 2002. Mona Eltahawy. "Turkish Law Recognizes Women, Men as Equals." [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR) – NEW WAYS. 2003. Gender Discrimination in the Turkish Penal Code Draft Law. [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]
_____. April 2002. Ela Anil et al. The New Legal Status of Women in Turkey. [Accessed 20 Sept. 2004]

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). 2004. Carin Benninger-Budel and Lucinda O'Hanlon. Violence Against Women: 10 Reports/Year 2003. "Violence Against Women in Turkey." [Accessed 17 Sept. 2004]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: European Country of Origin Information Network (ECOI), Dialog, Human Rights Association of Turkey, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), , Human Rights Watch (HRW), Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Women Watch, Women Living Under Muslims Laws.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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