Life Became Meaningless: Legal Perspectives on Turkey's Child Brides

Lara A. Elborno, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Nadia Shamsi, Loyola University Chicago School of Law


One in every three women in Turkey is married as a child bride. Girls who are married early experience significant detrimental effects including the denial of continued education, isolation, and medical problems related to early pregnancy. While no single factor is to blame for this harmful practice, the two primary causes fueling early marriage in Turkey are poverty and cultural traditions. Religion is not a direct cause but religious leaders do play a role in perpetuating this phenomenon by officiating unofficial marriage ceremonies. This paper will provide an overview of the practice of early marriage in Turkey. Further, it will address how early marriage occurs both within and outside of the current Turkish legal system. Currently, Turkey has no laws explicitly outlawing child marriage. However, many related laws indirectly suppress early marriage by targeting parents who consent to marrying their daughters early, imams who conduct religious marriages, and even spouses of child brides. This paper will show that the greatest impediment to justice is the overall lack of enforcement of these laws. Still, some initiatives have been taken to combat early marriages and improve the situations of child brides. These initiatives include educational campaigns, grassroots activism, legal advocacy, and data collection. In support of this movement, this paper will recommend additional methods to prevent child marriage. More specifically, this includes (1) various legal reforms including reforms to education laws and the Penal Code (2) consistent enforcement of existing laws, and (3) increased cooperation between religious leaders and local governments.