Originally from Syria, 31-year-old Ghufran is a community health support staff member with the refugee health project of the WHO Country Office in Turkey. Ghufran provides home care to Syrians who cannot access migrant health centres due to disability or advanced age.
Workers like Ghufran do not only take care of their patients’ health; they are also trained to look out for other unspoken needs when visiting homes, such as living conditions and – more importantly – the refugees’ knowledge of their rights in Turkey.
It was during one such visit to Hatay in southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border that Ghufran noticed something was amiss. One of the girls in the home was wearing what looked like an engagement ring.
“That immediately alerted me that something was not right,” Ghufran says. “Once I got back to the Refugee Health Training Centre, I immediately spoke with my senior colleagues to understand what we could do. It was clear to me that the 14-year-old girl was a child bride, soon to be married off.”
Child marriages are illegal and a form of violence against young girls
Child marriage is illegal in most countries in the WHO European Region, but young girls in Europe and all over the world are still married off against their will.
Globally, over 20% of young women were married before their 18th birthday, and 12 million girls under 18 are married every year.
Turkish law prohibits and penalizes child marriage, and many countries have put in place similar legal mechanisms to stop this form of violence against girls. For these mechanisms to work, outreach, training and community support services such as those provided by Ghufran and her colleagues are essential to continue safeguarding girls’ rights.
Ghufran takes action
After agreeing with her colleagues on the best course of action, Ghufran returned to the girl’s home for a regularly scheduled visit. While there, she managed to have a private moment with both the girl and her mother, and that was when her suspicions were confirmed.
“Indeed, both the girl and her mum confessed that she was soon to be married off, and that she had already left school to prepare for her soon-to-be-wife responsibilities,” Ghufran recalls.
“Together with my colleagues, we explained to the girl’s family what Turkish law says about underage marriages, and most importantly, emphasized the adverse health effects of giving birth at such an early age.”
Ghufran and her team then contacted the local social services unit of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies and handed over the case. Social services took immediate action to provide more information about Turkey’s laws on the matter and to prevent the marriage so that the girl could continue her education.
“Social services made sure the girl stayed in school to complete her primary education, and our team continued to provide outreach services to the family.”
Ghufran’s training and attention to detail has made a difference in the life of the 14-year-old girl from Hatay.
“Of course, the girl probably only saw her future as a wife and not as a happy child. But education in Turkey is free and all girls like her can dream of a better future and start a family at the right time,” Ghufran says.
16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence
On 25 November WHO/Europe marked the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, an annual activist-led campaign of individuals and organizations around the world, calling for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.
Violence against women and girls, including child marriage, is an important public health, gender equality and human rights issue.
Working with partners and local organizations such as Ghufran’s in Turkey, WHO/Europe continues to promote the safeguarding of the rights of women and girls, including those in remote communities.
Turning the European Programme of Work into action
The WHO Country Office in Turkey works to deliver the European Programme of Work, 2020–2025 – “United Action for Better Health in Europe” (EPW) also through the provision of health services to Syrian refugees under temporary protection in Turkey.
In line with the EPW, health services for refugees in Turkey are free of charge in 180 migrant health centres across the country, whose staff have been jointly trained by WHO Turkey and the Ministry of Health.
Ghufran works as part of the refugee health project, Supporting the employment of Syrian personnel in the Turkish health sector, run jointly by WHO Turkey and the Ministry of Health and funded by the Government of Germany through KfW Development Bank.
Source: The Who, December 2021