Divorced dads get organized in Turkey
December 15, 2014
Female victims of violence and abuse by men often make the headlines in Turkey, but now men are also raising their voices, to complain about ex-spouses. More than 400 Turkish men have lodged complaints with the parliament’s Petition Commission over outrageous alimonies and being barred from seeing their children.
A total of 287 divorced men called for their rights to be protected, saying that they were unable to see their children, that mothers raised barriers for fathers and that existing procedures worked against men. Another 151 requested legal amendments to reduce the alimonies they are forced to pay.
The Petition Commission first examines the requests and complaints it receives and then puts them on the General Assembly’s agenda. Contacted by Al-Monitor, the commission’s deputy chairman, Halil Urun, said the issue required “comprehensive” study before any action could be taken.
“Court rulings in favor of dads are often not heeded. A judge, for instance, rules that a man should be allowed to see his child every week, but the woman takes the child and goes away,” said Urun, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party.
“The Petition Commission cannot interfere with the judiciary. Then, what can be done? We could take other measures focusing on education. We could make use of the Education Ministry’s lifelong learning program for adults. To raise awareness, we could ask the Religious Affairs Directorate to advise mosque-goers on the situation of dads. Certainly, we need to work on the issue first. Any comment at present will be premature,” he added.
Hasan Akgol, a commission member from the main opposition Republican People’s Party, told Al-Monitor, “The decisions we make are recommendations. Parliament decides whether to take them up or not. The issue of alimonies, however, has not been brought to our agenda by the chairman. We have not discussed this issue since 2013, meaning that the Petition Commission itself is not taking it seriously.”
The divorce rate in Turkey has increased by 38% over the past decade. Couples who file for divorce are first sent to family counselors by the judge. Apart from family counselors, the Religious Affairs Directorate has also been involved in settling marriage problems. In cases where divorced parents are barred from seeing their children, the bailiff’s office steps in, a last resort that can be a distressing experience for the child.
Necil Beykont, who founded the website Divorced Fathers in 2006 to give a voice to fathers barred from seeing their children, has a completely different vantage point on the issue: “The fathers — that is — the newly divorced men, are also to blame. They are diluting the issue. We had already begun to make our voices heard, but now they say they pay too much in alimonies and want this to be taken up as well. Childless men are even more vocal on the issue. With the alimony issue brought in, things naturally become watered down. What we advocate is not the rights of men, but the rights of children and fathers — that is, the right of children to have contact with their dads. Men who are not even fathers are bringing up their alimony problems — their pocket problems — which is making things more difficult for us and even undermining our cause. We cannot even begin to talk about the child’s right to grow up with both parents.”
The Divorced Fathers site has more than 20,000 members today. In remarks to Al-Monitor, Beykont, an instructor at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, explained how his group’s efforts last year eventually came to naught: “In 2013, we drew up a report at the end of one month’s work with the Justice Ministry’s Directorate-General of Laws and Regulations, investigating judges from the appeals court and family court judges. We came up with ideas on which legal provisions should be amended and what training programs should be drawn up for officials in family courts. But the two ministers with whom we worked quit their posts to become mayors. Their successors have not taken up the issue yet. The Health Ministry, too, should join us. There is a syndrome called ‘parental alienation,’ which the ministry should add to its list of ailments. Psychologists and pedagogues should be involved both in the court process and in the post-divorce period, and their assessments should be taken into account. We need to raise awareness in Turkey of this issue and take action.”
Beykont said that after lengthy debates, psychiatrists and divorce lawyers eventually acknowledged the “parental alienation syndrome,” a condition in which a child develops a negative attitude toward a parent as a result of indoctrination by the other parent after divorce.
Experts list eight characteristics of the syndrome: a campaign of denigration against the targeted parent, limiting contact with that parent, erasing the parent from the child’s life, encouraging the child to reject the parent, portraying the parent as dangerous, forcing the child to choose between the parents and limiting contact with the targeted parent’s extended family.
Time will show to what extent fathers who refuse to give up their rights to their children will have their voices heard in a country where violence against women is a hot issue.