They say that a wedding hasn’t really happened if some obscure relative doesn’t get into an argument with another. But the happy couple rarely expect their photographer to be the one throwing punches! That’s exactly what happened when Turkish wedding photographer Onur Albayrak stepped in to protest the age of the 15 year-old bride at a wedding in eastern Turkey.
Photographer Onur Albayrak had only met the groom prior to the wedding. When he saw the bride on the day, a fifteen-year-old girl who Albayrak reports was trembling with fear, he stepped in to refuse to photograph the event.
The wedding at Turgut Özal Nature Park was soon disrupted as Albayrak became disturbed by the bride’s young age. A verbal argument quickly escalated as Albayrak protested against the coercion of a minor into marrying a much older man and ended with Albayrak breaking the groom’s nose!
Albayrak told the Daily News:
“The groom had come to my studio some two weeks ago and was alone. I saw the bride for the first time at the wedding. She’s a child, and I felt her fear because she was trembling.”
He also added:
“A child bride means child abuse, and no force in the world can make me photograph a child as a bride.”
Regardless of moral issues raised by age-inappropriate matches, the law in Turkey prohibits anyone under the age of 18 to be married. However, there has been no further news as to whether the wedding went ahead at a later date, leaving the fate of the young girl involved unresolved.
Turkish based human rights groups have reported an increasing amount of such marriages in the region of Malataya, Turkey. They have expressed serious concerns regarding an increase in child marriage in eastern Turkey. A recent government report outlined that child marriage, though illegal, is accepted in some religious cultures of eastern Turkey, making it difficult for authorities to shut down illegal ceremonies.
One of the 30 Turkish MPs who called for the investigation into illegal child marriage, Murat Bakan, told the Independent:
“Early marriages violate children’s rights, women’s rights, human rights. As CHP MPs we ask parliament to investigate child marriages.”
Child marriages are conducted in clandestine, unofficial ceremonies. Therefore, it currently remains down to individuals such as Albayrak to protest child marriages as and when they are happening. Many took to social media to praise Albayrak’s bravery in opposing the marriage.
However, the real question remains as to what steps the Turkish government is taking to work with international human rights charities – such as Unicef and Save the Children – to tackle the rising issue of child marriages.
Without a doubt, child marriages are violations of a child’s right to safety and the right to pursue and education. The issues of non-consensual sex in an underage marriage alone sadly reflects a larger society movement that seems blind to women’s reproductive and sexual rights.
According to the Gatestone Institute, up to 40% of girls under the age of 18 are forced into underage marriage in Turkey, resulting in a high school dropout rate of 56% for teenaged girls. Sadly, we so often don’t realise that the number of girls married under the legal age is so high. Unicef and ActionAid have ongoing campaigns against child marriage and sexual exploitation that try to tackle the issues of cultural laws and ideas supporting child marriage.
Albayrak’s actions may be seen as heroic, but the horrifying issue is why they were necessary. There are clearly many wedding guests, including the girl’s own family, who are complicit in her abuse. Perhaps if we pursued a policy of educating people on the various issues surrounding coercion, child marriage and non-consensual sex, we would be more likely to stand united against such horrible mistreatment of children.
Albayrak says that he does not regret his actions. But it does lead us to consider whether one act of violence is enough to tackle such a rampant issue. Some may not consider fifteen to be such a young age – especially given the Turkish governmental body who reported that, according to Islamic Law, girls as young as 9 could marry – but from a psychological and biological perspective, fifteen is much too young to marry and have children.
Albayrak’s actions should be upheld as an example of one person standing up for what they believe to be right. But if the majority of people remain unconcerned by this rise in child marriage, so many young girls will continue to be coerced into marrying much older men.
By Charlie Thorpe