Turkey: Village girls taken from school at 13 to "preserve" for marriage at 14 or 15 Print E-mail

 Pakistan August 14, 2006 Monday Rajab 18, 1427

Villagers keep girls from schools in Turkey
By Emma Ross-Thomas

ANDAC (Turkey): Meryem Isikci’s parents took her out of school at 13 after people in her village started gossiping about what she might be getting up to outside class.

Now she spends her days gathering wheat and barley in this conservative and patriarchal region of eastern Turkey.

“I wanted to study so much...but there was gossip and now my parents won’t allow me,” she told Reuters in Andac, a village of mud and straw houses surrounded by barren mountains.

The UN Children’s Fund UNICEF and Turkey’s government launched a campaign in 2003 to promote girls’ education, but Bahri Yildizbas, coordinator of the campaign in Van province, says 30 per cent of girls in the poor, rural and mainly Kurdish southeast still do not attend primary school.

The most common reason given is economic, as girls work at home, in the fields or in other jobs. However, incentives of 25 lira ($16) a month to poor mothers and at least theoretical fines for absenteeism suggest there are other reasons, too.

Families concerned about their daughters’ reputations ­ critical in this conservative region where many girls marry at 14 or 15 ­ are hesitant to let them out of their sight, particularly when going to school involves a bus journey.

“They say, ‘she goes around with boys’ and worse things,” Meryem said. Not one girl attends high school in her small village near Van where locals say smuggling is a major source of income. Rumours can ruin a girl’s chances of a good marriage, for which girls’ families receive hefty dowries.

“Boys will hassle her, that’s why we don’t want to (send her to school),” said Etyemez Oner, mother of 15-year-old Bahar who went to school only for one year.

In a region where per capita income is half the national average and estimates of unemployment are as high as 50 per cent, and where women usually dedicate their lives to domesticity, academic skills are not valued for girls.­Reuters