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Family structures

Traditionally, family structures in Turkey favoured a combination of extended families and nuclear families to promote a patriarchal social order in which maleness and age were the main sources of authority. Domestic environments were gendered and were the ideal place for the confinement of females. The initiation of children into adolescence and adulthood followed the gendered division of roles and was largely in line with the rites of passage observed in most Muslim societies (teaching the Koran to boys five to six years old, separation of the sexes from age seven or eight, obligation to fast during Ramadan before the age of twelve, and the ‘negotiation’ of a marriage decided by the parents when the child is between fifteen and eighteen years of age).

According to a report issued by USAK in 2012, 31.7 percent of women and 6.9 percent of men married before the age of 18, and 58.7 percent of women and 58.2 percent of men married between 18 and 24. 31.9 percent of women and 28.0 percent of men married according to the arranged marriage model, while the marriages of 36.2 percent of women and 24.8 percent of men were decided solely by the parents. 85.9 percent of marriages were contracted in the civil or religious form, although the latter has had no legal standing since 1925. Religious ceremonies are, however, often considered more important in the community. In 16.8 percent of the cases overall (and 23.5 percent of the cases in rural areas), the families of married couples paid the süt parası (‘milk money’), or what anthropologists call ‘bride price’ (bașlık parası and qalın in Kurdish). Marriages between relatives constitute 20.9 percent of all marriages (4.8 percent in Western Marmara, 15.3 percent in Istanbul, and 40.4 percent in the South-Eastern Anatolia region). Although there are no reliable statistics, the rate of polygamy, which has been prohibited since 1925, is generally low, although it may affect up to 5 percent of the women in cities such as Diyarbakır and Urfa. Of the sample interviewed in the above-mentioned survey, 82 percent do not drink alcohol, 44 percent do not read books, and 77 percent do not go to cinemas or theatres. They consider the ideal family size three children. Nuclear families are spreading (80.7 percent, with an additional 6 percent of single households), and the couples are generally stable: only 4 percent remarried and 0.3 percent married a third time. According to Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Sahin, the divorce rate is increasing but stood at only 1.6 percent in 2012.

The historically high birth rate dropped from 6.8 percent in 1976 to 2.37 in 2001 and 2.3 in 2008, thus approaching a critical threshold for the maintenance of the population. This trend will presumably be affected by the pro-natalist campaigns supported by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who wants to criminalize abortion – except in urgent medical cases – as a way of dealing with the ‘abortion war’, which, he claimed, was about to be declared in Turkey.

 

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