Criminal Trial Exposes Child Marriage Practices in Turkey

A Turkish woman’s parents and husband are now on trial for child and sexual abuse charges after she was forced to marry her husband when she was six years old, bringing attention to religious sects in the Muslim-majority country.

The 24-year-old woman, only identified as H.K.G., filed a complaint against her husband and parents in 2020 for forcing her to marry as a child in a religious union. The defendants had connections with a foundation linked to the Ismailaga religious group, a sect with ties to a larger Sufi order in Turkey. The group is said to have relations with high-ranking Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Her husband, named Kadir I., is facing 30 years of imprisonment if proven guilty of child and sexual abuse. Her father, Yusuf Ziya Gumusel, and mother, Fatma Gumusel, would face a minimum of 18 years in prison if found guilty. All three defendants denied the charges against them.

Yusuf Ziya Gumusel served as head of the Hiranur Foundation, which had ties with the Ismailaga religious group. Kadir I. was also a prominent foundation member, and he was 29 when the abuse allegedly started.

The Turkish Birgun newspaper reported the case in 2022, sparking public outrage and demands to scrutinize and hold Islamic sects accountable, which had become more prominent under Erdoğan’s rule. His party, the Justice and Development Party, also had links with the country’s Islamist movement.

T24 News reported that the courts decided to conduct the hearings in secret on January 30 and prohibited any form of broadcast regarding the trial. Nevertheless, women and children’s rights groups held rallies outside the court, demanding measures to help stop abuses against minors by members of religious sects. The Hiranur Foundation also staged a counter-demonstration, claiming that the defendants and the foundation were victims of a defamation campaign against them.

Aside from the Ismailaga religious group, the most famous sect in Turkey was the Gülen movement, headed by Turkish cleric Muhammed Fethullah Gülen. The religious group was accused of plotting a coup d’etat against the Turkish government in 2016, an accusation Gülen denied.

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