Rape and marry

Rape and marry

Turkish government’s child abuse bill

The Turkish government has withdrawn a controversial bill that would have overturned the convictions of thousands of male sex offenders after protests and widespread outcry. The bill proposed by the ruling AK party would allow the release from jail of men convicted of raping an underage girl if they married their victim, was approved earlier in an initial reading in the county’s parliament.

PanARMENIAN.Net - Hours before the final vote, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim withdrew it “to allow for the broad consensus the president requested," while the government asked its critics for a new formulation. The aim of the proposal, according to Yildirim, was to remedy the situation of men who are in jail and married to women under the age of 18 in a religious ceremony and with the consent of their family.

He rejected suggestions that the plan amounted to an "amnesty for rape".

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag echoed Yildirim, saying: "The bill will certainly not bring amnesty to rapists. This is a step taken to solve a problem in some parts of our country."

The bill, part of a package of amendments to the legal system, sparked protests across Turkish society and was condemned abroad, as capable to encourage the rape of minors.

Around 3,000 protesters shouted slogans and demanded that the bill to be withdrawn amid claps and whistles as they marched to Kadikoy square in Istanbul. They waved banners emblazoned with slogans such as "#Rape cannot be legitimized" and "AKP, take your hands off my body", a reference to the ruling Justice and Development Party that introduced the bill. Protesters shouted "We will not shut up, we will not obey, withdraw the bill immediately".

UN agencies called on the government not to approve the bill, arguing that it would damage the country's ability to combat sexual abuse and child marriage. “It would create a perception of impunity in favor of perpetrators of such child rights violations. In addition it would increase the risk for further victimization of the child if she marries the perpetrator of the sexual abuse," UNICEF, UNEFPA, UN Women and UNDP said in a joint statement.

Elif Shafak, one of Turkey's best-selling novelists, explained the concern over the bill.

"One of the main weaknesses of this draft is that word, consent," she told the BBC. "What does that mean? We're talking about children here. So if the rapist negotiates with the family, if he bribes or threatens the family, the family can easily withdraw, you know, their complaint and they can say OK there was a consent and there was no force involved."

The pro-government Women's and Democracy Association, whose deputy chairman is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's younger daughter Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar, said one of the biggest problems of the bill would be proving on a legal basis what constituted force or consent. "How can the 'own will' of such a young girl be identified?" it asked. "We would like to draw attention to issues that might arise in case of it coming into force."

Turkey's legal age of consent is 18 but the practice of underage weddings in religious ceremonies remains widespread. 440,000 girls under the age of 18 have become mothers in Turkey since 2002. 15,937 of them were below the age of 15. Child abuse cases have tripled in the past 10 years, during which time 438,000 underage girls have been married.

Each year, 15 million girls worldwide are married before the age of 18. Child marriage violates girls’ rights to health, education and opportunity. It exposes girls to violence throughout their lives, and traps them in a cycle of poverty. If there is no reduction in child marriage, the global number of women married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050, with devastating consequences for the whole world.

Lusine Mkrtumova / PanARMENIAN.Net Photo: EPA
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