By Debbie Busler, Benedetta Balmaverde, Damla Çalık and Gurvinder Singh

Young girls who have fled conflict and instability in rural Syria in search of a more peaceful and dignified life in Turkey can sometimes find themselves still at risk from a harmful traditional practice their families have brought from their homeland.

Even though Turkey’s laws state that people must be 18 years of age before they can marry, some Syrian migrant girls and boys aged below 18 are being religiously married to adults with the consent of their parents. This can have profound negative consequences for the health and wellbeing of the children concerned.

It is common for there to be a rise in child marriages during emergencies and crises, as parents can see this as an option to provide protection and financial stability for their daughters. Cultural traditions together with lack of education and work opportunities confine girls to household chores, with no power to decide their own future.

But the volunteers and staff of the Turkish Red Crescent, which has been working to support Turkey’s large population of Syrian migrants and displaced people throughout the long-running crisis, are looking out for children at risk – and helping their families explore other options.

Huriye Tak, Health and Psychosocial Support Officer at the Turkish Red Crescent, explains: “Parents are motivated by love and care, facing social dilemmas that we need to understand if we are to prevent child marriage. Alternatives like the conditional cash transfer programme for education can encourage families to keep their daughters in school. We also educate parents on the negative impacts of child marriage.”

When a marriage is planned but has not yet taken place, the Red Crescent meets the family to better understand their situation and offer alternative solutions. If there is a pending threat, they look after the girl at the community centre until the authorities take over the case.

Once a marriage has happened, it is very difficult to reverse it due to the social stigma that would follow the girl if she was to leave her husband. In these cases, the Red Crescent focuses on protecting the health and safety of the girl and any children she may have, referring them to local authorities. Volunteers meet the girl, her spouse, and her in-laws to determine what options are available.

Tak said: “Our character is largely defined by the relationship with our mother. It’s hard to imagine a healthy family where the mother is still a child. We respect the decision of others, but when we see such a harmful traditional practice in the community, we need to speak up against it.”

The Turkish Red Crescent Community Centres are supported by the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian Crisis. For more information, please visit: www.kizilaytoplummerkezleri.org