This Turkish woman has already saved 81 children from a very early marriage

Dilek Demir is the only female playful, elected local administrator, in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir. She wants to end child marriage, in part because of her own experiences.

Ingrid Woodwick

People come and go to the office of the district chief Dilek Demir. She knows everyone by name or by the name of the pet. Hello dear! Ah, you replied! A girl greets them with the name ‘My Peanuts.’ The neighbors hug, and she screams on the phone.Ikki knightsTo someone who has done her a favor, a nice Turkish way of saying “I’m glad you’re here.”

Demir (50) is Muhtar of El-Muradia, a poor and crowded neighborhood in Diyarbakir. Mukhtars are elected officials who act as a personal bridge between the people and the state. Demir herself describes her mission as a kind of motherhood, but for 13,500 people. “I do everything in my power to solve everyone’s problems,” Demir sums up the work.

On a weekday afternoon, it turns out that people come to the Mukhtar with different questions. A family needs a wheelchair for a disabled child, and another family Demir is looking for furniture for their flawless home. Another woman has problems getting a loan, after which she called Demir back and forth and sent her assistant on the road with the woman: “Mukhtar Dilek told his boss.”

Men try to crush you because you are a woman

In her office, Demir is clearly delivering orders and seems to have accomplished a lot of tasks. However, Demir had to fight a bit to be the only woman in Diyarbakir to be elected Muhtar. I competed against six men in 2014. “Here it is a little different fighting against men, they are trying to crush you, because you are a woman. That is why I fought so hard and won in the end,” Demir says with a laugh.

Demir’s main mission is to end child marriage and child abuse. That is why she has set up a mailbox outside her office, where people can send anonymous tips and complaints. It worked. “Not just from my neighborhood, notes came from everywhere.” In dozens of cases she can do something about it. “I have now saved 80, no waiting, 81 children,” Demir says proudly.


Dilek DemirIngrid Woodwick’s photo

About half of the advice was about girls forced into marriage before the age of 18. Demir knows very well what these girls are going through. “They also gave it to me when I was 14. That was 36 years ago, I had no idea,” she says of her very early wedding day.

“The day I got married, that night was a terrible nightmare. You’re young, young, you’ve seen nothing. 27-year-old man, take off his clothes and come to you. Disgusting. I remember it so well. Now that I think about it, it’s like I’m living it.” Again. My heart is breaking again and it is making me sick again.”

“I am very open about this, and there is nothing left to hide.”

Demir was subjected to violence and abuse during a 16-year marriage and gave birth to her first child at the age of 15. “No one should go through what I went through. I will never let that happen again,” she says firmly, which is why she also talks about what she went through. “I sacrificed myself. I’m very open about it, everyone knows it anyway, and there’s nothing left to hide.”

Although illegal, child marriage is still common in Turkey, although Demir prefers to use the word child abuse. According to Demir, money is often a reason for the family’s approval of a marriage. “I was given for a penny, to be paid in three instalments!” She still cares about this: “The fact that they could pay me in three installments meant that I was really productive. I was like this table, or that cabinet.”

After her success in Diyarbakir, Demir will now focus on the countryside. Demir believes that the phenomenon is still prevalent in the traditional and conservative regions of eastern Turkey. Do not care how the reactions will be there, as it is not very popular in Diyarbakir. Nor is her work appreciated by everyone in Diyarbakir.

“What are you looking for here, go home,” is often the family’s first reaction when Demir comes to tell a story. Al-Muhtar does not delay and if necessary fights a big battle. Sometimes I say: If you let this child marry, I will file a complaint. Then child protection comes and takes the child from you. Then you will not see your child anymore and the groom will go to prison. This scares her.”

How many cases of child marriage?

According to figures from the Turkish Statistical Agency TÜIK, in 2021, about 2 percent of all new brides were between 16 and 17 years old. There are no official statistics for girls under 16 years of age. In 2011, this ratio was still 7.2. The actual number will be higher, because child marriage is often not recorded. A United Nations survey found that one in five Turkish women between the ages of 18 and 45 got married before the age of 18.

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