A young mother from a small town in the North-West of Turkey came back from the 9 days long religious holiday to find her two-months old baby had died of starvation. It is hard to think about what the baby must have gone through, and it is criminal that this should have happened. However, there might be some disagreement as to who the criminal element is.
For the Turkish press, there is no mystery: the mother is being described everywhere as a monster mother (canavar anne).
Nor is it difficult to follow their reasoning: she was home alone with the baby. She left to visit her parents and did not take the baby with her.
But here are a few considerations that ought to be obvious to the Turkish Press but maybe not to the rest of the world:
Being a single mother in Turkey is highly stigmatized, so that it’s not surprising that the young woman would not have wanted to tell her parents she’d had a baby. In some parts of Turkey, it still happens that young women who find themselves pregnant outside marriage are murdered by their male relatives.
Abortion, is very much not an option for most people in Turkey, and very much frowned upon so that she may have thought it unacceptable herself.
Moreover, as a single woman, she has to answer to her father’s authority and would be expected to go back to her parents’ home for religious celebrations, and to stay and help for the duration of the holiday granted by the state (nine days, this year, including weekends).
And add these to considerations that ought to be obvious to everyone:
Unless this was a repeat of the virgin birth, this baby must have had a father. As there is no mention of the woman murdering the baby’s father, nor of her being a widow, we may assume that he is alive and has simply deserted his son and the woman who gave birth to him. Either he has deserted them to the extent that she cannot feel she can ask him for his help when he is desperate, or he has refused to help. In both cases, he is as much to blame for the baby’s death as she is.
Secondly, mother of young babies do experience prenatal depression, and this can be exacerbated by particularly stressful circumstances. Women who give birth need a lot of support simply to learn how to care for a baby. A single mother who is ashamed to admit she is to her family does not have such support in Turkey. There is, as far as I’m aware, no system of health visitors to ensure that they’re coping. Just a lot of blaming and shaming.
Again, I am not suggesting that the baby’s death by starvation was not both horrible and criminal. But if we want to demonize anyone, let’s make sure we share it out with the father, and those others who failed to provide the necessary support for raising a child (or having an abortion).
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