Turkish government to revise child abuse draft after facing uproar

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The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) members of parliament are working on a revision of a controversial child abuse draft presented to the legislative body last week, after the motion drew harsh criticism from various parts of society.

As the final voting on a motion presented by a group of AKP deputies last week will be held on Nov. 22, the proponent side is considering a revision to address concerns raised by the opposition at parliament and thousands taking to the streets and social media. 

The motion stipulates that for any crime of sexual abuse committed before Nov. 16, in the event of a subsequent marriage between the victim and the convict, the announcement of the verdict will be deferred and if there has already been a verdict the sentencing will be deferred.

Amid continued debate, the AKP deputies are still able to revise the document and open it for another parliamentary discussion. Prime Minister Binali Yıldrım on Nov. 18 urged AKP MPs to discuss the issues with opposition party members and reach a common ground. 

Critics have reiterated concerns that although the motion was introduced as a one-time regulation, it held the risk of becoming permanent and being extended to include similar offenses. 

Some AKP members, meanwhile, suggest that the motion should be discriminative according to age, and that only convicts of a certain age should benefit from the punishment amnesty.

According to proponents of the motion, the regulation is aimed at solving problems stemming from the fact that there are currently around 3,000 people in jail after “marrying” through non-civil religious procedures before reaching the legal age of marriage. 

“In some places, especially among our Roma citizens, those who are below the [legal age to get married] are getting married. We do not approve this and we are fighting against this. To solve this problem, we have changed our laws, but unfortunately there is still such a reality in Turkey,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has said, defending the regulation. 

It is argued that this condition brings problems when the male gets jailed and convicted of child abuse and the female is left alone with their babies born from these underage religious marriages. 

However, legal experts say the AKP’s initial proposed motion did not have an age minimum for the victims. For example, in the case of a 12-year-old girl who gets “married” to a 60-year-old man with religious procedures, the man would benefit from the amnesty.  

Some 64 women’s associations from across the political spectrum, including Mor Çatı (Purple Roof) and the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), issued a joint declaration urging the authorities “address this dire mistake.”

KADEM, whose deputy chair is Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar – the daughter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – also issued a separate statement on the motion, saying it failed to define “how a small girl can detect her ‘own will’” regarding sexual relations.  

The motion has angered all three opposition parties, who say it would encourage forced marriages and legalize marriage to rapists. 

CHP Group Deputy Chair Özgür Özel said the motion was approved by just one vote and claimed that Bozdağ had “strategically” issued it at the last minute of the session on Nov. 17.

“If a 50 or 60 year-old is told to marry an 11-year-old after raping her, and then marries her years later, she will suffer the consequences. If you give him a pass through marriage, the young girl will live in a prison for her whole life,” CHP Muğla deputy Ömer Süha Aldan said. 

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has also objected to the motion, with the party’s parliamentary group deputy chair Erkan Akçay saying the regulation would “legitimize rape” and pressure would emerge against young females forcing them to marry their abusers. 

On Nov. 19, thousands gathered to protest against the motion in Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Eskişehir, Adana, Kocaeli and Samsun. Signature campaigns were also launched to be sent to parliament in objection to the motion. 

During the gatherings, protestors carried signs reading “raping a child is the heaviest crime against humanity,” and “rape cannot be legitimized.” 

Twelve women were detained at the protest in the Black Sea province of Samsun, before later being released.

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