By Reuters London for Hürriyet Daily News
Child brides in Turkey are often raped, beaten and forced to undergo virginity tests, according to Eylem Atakav, the director of a new documentary which aims to break the silence on the taboo issue.
“Growing Up Married,” due to premiere in London on Oct. 30, examines the impact of child marriage on four women who were forced to marry at a young age in western Turkey.
“When hearing some of their stories I thought to myself, ‘How are you still alive?’” Atakav said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Globally, one third of girls in developing countries, excluding China, marry before the age of 18 and one in nine do so before the age of 15, according to U.N. data.
Campaigners say child marriage robs girls of their childhood and education, and increases the risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse. It also puts them in danger of death or serious injury if their bodies are not ready for childbirth.
“There are lots of stories about child brides, but very few that look at what happens to them after,” said Atakav, also a lecturer in film and television studies at the University of East Anglia in the UK.
The Turkish-born director said her filming trip to İzmir in July revealed survivors felt an urgent need to speak out.
“I had spent the day interviewing two of my parents’ neighbors about their experiences,” she said.
“Then there was a knock on the door – three women from the neighborhood came to ask if I was making a film about child brides and said that they wanted to talk about their experiences too,” she said.
The women in the film, now in their 30s to 50s, were married between the ages of 14 and 17. “They put a wedding gown on me one night and took me to some place I had never seen before – I have remained silent ever since,” one woman says in the film.
Another describes how she used to dread nights because her husband would drag her to the bedroom where he “took pleasure out of pulling my hair,” she said. “I used to collect all my hair from the floor and pillows every morning. Then I started cutting my hair so that he couldn’t hurt me as much.”
Only one out of the four women in the film is still married to her husband, said Atakav. Two are divorced and one has remarried but her ex-husband has banned her from seeing her daughter.
“These women have somehow managed to go on with their lives but you can see the pain on their faces,” Atakav said.
Campaign group Girls Not Brides says Turkey has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe, with an estimated 15 percent of girls married before the age of consent.
Atakav hopes her documentary will raise awareness of “this invisible issue, and be a tool for women’s voices to be heard everywhere.”