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More Than a Trivial Change

Critics say a proposed amendment to Turkish law, which would restrict the payment of alimony, could leave women trapped – in poverty or in abusive marriages. by Zeynep Yunculer 3 June 2019

As our regular readers know, TOL normally does not cover Turkey, unless an issue concerns one of the countries we do cover in post-communist Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia. However, for the last few months, we have been making an exception because of the dire situation faced by many journalists in Turkey since the attempted coup in 2016. After that dramatic event, almost 200 media outlets were closed down and scores of critically minded journalists lost their jobs and now struggle to eke out an existence. We are proud to provide some international exposure to many of these Turkish reporters and expand, at least for now, our mission of supporting independent journalism and the freedom of the media to this fascinating and important part of the world.

 

 

Proposed changes to Turkey's existing law on alimony could force women to stay in abusive marriages or live in poverty, say sources opposed to the conservative-led government's suggested amendment.

 

According to current legislation, in place since 1988, a spouse who risks poverty after divorce, and who is not responsible for the marriage’s failure, “has the right to demand alimony for an unlimited period of time.”

 

Article 176 of Turkey’s Civil Code stipulates that this will cease to be payable only after the claimant remarries, or if one of the parties dies. Claimants also lose the right to alimony if the risk of poverty disappears or if they begin leading “a dishonorable life.”

 

The Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government, however, proposed an amendment last year that would set a maximum of five years for the payment of alimony – instead of for an unlimited duration.

 

Last August, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “men [paying unlimited alimony] are the victims here and we will stop that,” when he presented a government action plan, which included the proposed amendment to the alimony law.

 

Women protesting the proposed amendment to the alimony law in April this year

 

Turkey’s minister of family, labor, and social services, Zehra Zumrut Selcuk, said in March that the reason for seeking an amendment to the existing law was “to stop the increasing divorce rate and to create a peaceful and healthy family environment.”

 

Data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) this March showed that the number of divorces increased by 10.9 percent in 2018, compared to 2017. According to TurkStat, almost 142,500 Turkish marriages ended in divorce last year.

 

In an article published on 2 March, the pro-government Daily Sabah newspaper argued that “laws allowing a lengthy alimony payment for divorced women may have played a role” in the increased rate.

 

But activists and organizations supporting women's rights argue that there is no proven connection between the alimony provision and divorce rates.

 

Canan Gullu, from the Federation of Women's Associations of Turkey (TKDF), said that the government itself had no way of backing up this argument.

 

“I asked the Ministry of Justice if they had established any link between the current practice of alimony and the divorce rate in the last 30 years, and the answer was ‘no,’” she said. “The ministry didn’t even have the exact data on how many people are complaining about the current law, so it is all very arbitrary.”

 

“Since preventing divorce is the alleged purpose of this amendment, reliable data should be gathered first to understand whether there is a correlation between unlimited alimony and the increasing divorce rate in Turkey,” Gullu insisted. “The ministry cannot propose the amendment without knowing the answers to these questions first.”

 

Life After Divorce?

 

Another fear is that the change in the law would make it much harder for women to leave abusive situations.

 

“The proposed amendment would force women to stay in a marriage even when they are subjected to domestic violence,” said Leyla Suren, a lawyer from the organization We Will Stop Femicide. “The government wants to take back many rights the women in this country have fought hard for, and a right to unlimited alimony is one of those rights.”

 

Although the current law allows the same alimony rights to both men and women, in reality the vast majority of claimants are women, Suren noted.

 

Government officials have defended the proposed changes, offering the examples of European countries such as Germany and Sweden, where the duration of alimony is also limited.

 

However, opponents point out that, unlike in Turkey, women in Germany and Sweden receive government support and a wide range of social services, as well as benefiting from higher salaries and economic independence.

 

Unsurprisingly, the amendment has won significant support from those currently responsible for paying alimony.

 

A father of two, SG, who asked to remain anonymous, divorced his wife 10 years ago and has been paying alimony ever since.

 

“My children live with their mother,” he explained. “I am a shopkeeper and for the last three years the work has slowed down and my income is smaller than it used to be. Almost half of what I make goes to alimony. How shall I pay my rent and bills?

 

“I am not an AKP supporter, but in this case, I agree with their proposed amendment,” he concluded.

 

Recipients of alimony, on the other hand, strongly oppose the government’s proposal.

 

A mother of two – HA, who also asked to remain anonymous – divorced her husband five years ago.

 

“I was a victim of domestic violence for years while I was still married. Even when I was pregnant, I was beaten up by my husband,” she said.

 

HA is an accountant, but said that she had been unable to afford the childcare to allow her to work.

 

“The duration of alimony should not be limited,” she continued. “I am already struggling to get the alimony that I am entitled to, and every month on payday I receive degrading messages from my former husband, full of insults. If the amendment is accepted, how many women who have been abused in their marriage will dare to file for divorce?

 

There is no doubt that the government can prevent many divorces with the new law, but at the expense of women who will decide to stay in an abusive marriage rather than to live in complete poverty.”

Zeynep Yunculer studied Media and Communications at Izmir University. She has worked at the Milliyet newspaper, Arti1 TV, and BirGun newspaper. She is currently a freelance journalist and editor at Journo.com.tr. Yunculer received the Contemporary Newspapers’ Association award for best interview in 2016.
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