Last month’s Volunteerism Summit on Early and Forced Marriage, hosted by Social Awareness Projects (TDP) and the International Children Center (ICC) on April 30 at the Bilkent Hotel and Conference Center, drew nearly 300 attendees of a wide range of ages. Especially heartening was the participation of almost 90 students from 45 different provinces, including those in the East and Southeast regions of Turkey.
The students, who are conducting social responsibility projects through their universities, are representative of the young people who will carry the spirit of volunteerism and civil society engagement into the future, tackling issues that include the persistent problem of early and forced marriage. The summit was an important step in raising awareness regarding this issue, and in giving participants the opportunity to exchange ideas regarding possible solutions.
The meeting began with presentations that explored the background of the topic. First, an overview of the current situation regarding early and forced marriage, both in Turkey and worldwide, was given. Next, the reasons why this practice should be stopped were discussed with reference to educational, legal, physiological and psychological perspectives.
A highlight of the summit was a presentation by high school students, whose efforts were supported by the Sivil Düşün program within the context of an EU initiative, and organized by ICC. The students had completed projects, including a video and a musical composition that were played during the meeting, on the right of children to be protected from violence and on the need for legal reform in this area. They had also prepared a declaration stating that marriage under the age of 18 should be strictly forbidden by law, and called for financial support to children in order to enable them to continue their education, as well as increased awareness of this issue on the part of lawmakers.
Another notable moment came when a young woman supported by Çağdaş Yaşamı Destekleme Derneği, a non-governmental voluntary organization working to raise awareness regarding human rights and to support individuals who need educational aid, gave a talk relating her own life experiences. Although her mother and grandmother had been married before they were 18, she had persisted in pursuing her education and was now working as a civil engineer. Her talk received rapt attention and, at the end, warm and prolonged applause from the audience.
In sum, meeting participants affirmed their conviction that early and forced marriage is a violation of children’s and women’s rights, and that this is a critical issue in terms of its social, cultural, legal, health and economic aspects not only in Turkey but all around the world.