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New documentary reveals stories of Turkish child marriage

The haunting stories of Turkish women who were married off as children – and their fears of the same fate for girls today – will be told for the first time in a documentary premiering in London.

Filmed by the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Dr Eylem Atakav in Izmir in 2015, Growing Up Married explores what happens following child marriages, by focusing on the stories of four women. The documentary contributes to debates around this significant, complex and emotionally charged human rights issue, and signals the need for further research and consideration on the matter.

According to the 2013 UNICEF report, ‘Ending Child Marriage: Progress and Prospects’, 700 million women were married as children, and 280 million girls are at risk of becoming child brides worldwide. In Turkey, according to the results of 2015 report written by the Turkish Population and Health Research, 1 in 3 marriages involve a child.

Dr Atakav, a senior lecturer in film and television studies in UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies, had unprecedented access to the Turkish women’s stories.

Dr Atakav said: “It was July. I was in Izmir for the filming of Growing Up Married and I had spent the day interviewing two of my parents’ neighbours about their experiences.

“Then, at around 10 o’clock at night, there was a knock on the door. Three women from the neighbourhood came to ask if I was making a film about child brides and said that they wanted to talk about their experiences, too.

“I was surprised to find how invisible and silent – yet common – this experience was. It was a truly eye-opening moment that signalled the women’s urgent need to speak out and the importance of recording their experiences.”

One of the women in the documentary said: “They put a wedding gown on me one night and took me to some place I had never seen before. I was sitting next to my aunt in the car. I asked her: ‘Auntie, where am I being taken to?’ She pinched my arm and said: ‘Stop talking! It is rude to talk!’ I [have] remained silent until this moment.”

Another woman, married as a teenager, spoke of the abuse she suffered as a young wife when “all I wanted to do was…play hopscotch.”

“He was around 40 and I was 15. All I wanted to do was to go out and play hopscotch with my friends. I used to dread night-times. He used to drag me to the bedroom and took pleasure out of pulling my hair. 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.”

Reviewers have called Growing Up Married “Absorbing, shocking and beautiful all at once. These women's stories really make everything else in the room stop.”

Dr Atakav teaches courses on women and film; women, Islam and media; and Middle Eastern media. She has contributed to a House of Lords Commission report on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, and is co-leading a project at UEA on British Muslim values. Growing Up Married is her first film, and will be shown at the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley on Sunday, October 30, at 2pm. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Dr Atakav.

Image: Dean McCoy/flickr creative commons

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