Child Marriages in Muslim Societies Still Destroying Lives

The recent death of a “child bride” in Turkey is yet another reminder of the plight of children forced to marry in Muslim societies.

Fifteen-year-old Derya B., who was living in the province of Bitlis in eastern Turkey, gave birth to her first child at home in early December, according to Turkish newspaper Haberturk. One week after the birth, she was hospitalized -- ironically on October 11, the International Day of the Girl -- due to a severe headache, nausea, and vomiting. She was held in the intensive care unit of the hospital for two days. Derya eventually died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Derya had been married off to a relative in an "imam wedding” (a non-official, Islamic wedding) last year in Mutki, a village in Bitlis, when she was 14.

Dr. Aydan Biri, an expert in gynecology, told Haberturk that factors that increase maternal death can be direct or indirect:

The death of Derya constitutes indirect maternal death. It is dangerous for child brides to get pregnant. The death rate in adolescent pregnancies is higher. Blood pressure, premature birth, and early interventionist birth are commonplace in child pregnancies. And the pregnancies of children, whose body organs are not completely developed, end, more often, in death.

Derya is only one of the millions of victims of child marriages in the Muslim world. A total of 232,313 girls, aged 16 and 17, were married in Turkey between 2010 and 2015 alone, according to the official figures of the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policy.

Islamic tradition records that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, who is considered al-Insān al-Kāmil (the perfect human) and uswa hasana (an excellent model of conduct) by Muslims, married Aisha when she was 6 and consummated his marriage with her when she was 9.

He was 54 years old.

As scholar Robert Spencer puts it:

Islamic apologists in the West routinely deny that Muhammad married a child or that Islamic law sanctions child marriage. In reality, few things are more abundantly attested in Islamic law than the permissibility of child marriage.

Many Islamic countries, adds Spencer:

… make Muhammad’s example the basis of their laws regarding the legal marriageable age for girls.

Similarly, Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph of Islam, married Umm Kulthum bint Ali, granddaughter of Muhammad and the daughter of Caliph Ali, when she was between 10 and 12 years old and he was around 47.

Related verses from the Koran also clearly advocate the practice, which has become a long-lasting tradition in many Muslim communities. In April 2011, the Bangladesh Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini declared that those trying to pass a law banning child marriage in that country were putting Muhammad in a bad light: