A controversial clause by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to pardon men imprisoned for marrying and having sex with underage girls has caused outrage in Turkey.
The government claims it is a one-time amnesty for men who have wed teenage girls in a religious ceremony with the consent of the girls and their families.
The draft law is aimed at men convicted of sexual abuse of minors before Nov. 16, in cases not involving “force or threat”. If passed, the new law would allow offenders who legally marry their victims to have their sentence postponed or set aside.
The clause, sponsored by six AKP MPs and backed by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ (pictured above) as part of a wider package of reforms, came before Parliament in the early hours of Friday morning. Due to insufficient votes, the bill containing the controversial clause and 48 other articles was unable to pass it into law. It will be put to a vote again on 22 Nov.
All three Turkish opposition parties and multiple women’s groups have condemned the proposal, claiming it would encourage and legitimise rape of minors. It has also caused uproar among members of the public.
17 the legal age for marriage in Turkey
The legal age for marriage in Turkey is 17. Under extraordinary circumstances, a judge can permit a 16-year-old to marry.
The existing law, which came into force in 2005, does not recognise marriages carried out by a priest or imam – only marriages formally registered with the state through a civic ceremony are valid.
The state will automatically prosecute those who marry a minor aged 15 or younger and if found guilty, they face a prison sentence of between eight and 16 years. On Thursday, Minister Bozdağ said there were currently 3,000 men in jail for such offenses, caused because the families involved “do not know the law.”
Bozdağ argued that the proposal will help alleviate the suffering of affected couples where children have been born and the father imprisoned. He added that those marrying underage girls in future would not be able to escape punishment.
Proposed law “encourages rape”
The six AKP MPs who proposed the controversial clause are (displayed clockwise below, from top left): Mehmet Muş (Istanbul), Halis Dalkılıç (Istanbul), Ramazan Can (Kırıkkale), İlyas Şeker (Kocaeli), Hacı Bayram Türkoğlu (Hatay), and Mücahit Durmuşoğlu (Osmaniye).
The motion was “strongly rejected” by the main opposition party. Tekin Bingöl, Deputy Leader for the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP), said it amounted to a ‘pardon for rapists’.
Fellow CHP MP Ömer Süha Aldan claimed it would, “encourage forced marriages and legalise marriage to rapists.”
Mithat Sancar, HDP MP for Mardin did not mince his words about the draft law either: “This [proposed] regulation is shameful to humanity, indeed its implementation is a crime against society as it encourages rape.”Erkan Akçay, MHP Deputy Leader, described the motion as “outrageous” and “impossible to accept.”
Canan Güllü, President of the Federation of Women’s Associations, also spoke out against the draft law, saying marriages involving child brides should remain banned.
Responding to the criticism, Bozdağ said: “What we are doing is looking to find a solution to an ongoing problem; it is not to protect rape or protect rapists. We seek the heaviest punishment for rapists.”
He underlined the fact that those who would be set free are not ‘rapists’, as, “they aren’t people who committed sexual assault by force. Those [marriages] are acts done with the consent of families and the young ones.”
His views were echoed by the Prime Minster Binali Yıldırım, who criticised the opposition parties for trying to “distort” the draft law’s aims. He also asserted the new law would alleviate an ‘injustice’ against families who simply broke the law by marrying too young.
“This is not an amnesty for rape. Our government has introduced the most serious punishments for rape,” the Prime Minister said on Thursday.
15% of marriages in Turkey involve a child bride
The government’s response has failed to allay concerns. A statement by KADEM (Women and Democracy Association) highlighted the bill’s failure to establish “compulsion, threat and will” in marriages involving child brides.
Teenage brides are commonplace across Turkey. An estimated 15% of girls marry before the age of 18. It is difficult to know exactly how many of these wed before the legal age of 17, as the families will not register the marriage for fear of prosecution.
Girls who do marry young are often condemned to lifelong physical and mental abuse. The issue is the subject of a new documentary – Growing Up Married – by Dr Eylem Atakav.
The marriage only comes to light if the young bride goes to hospital for a birth, for example. The authorities are then obliged to notify the police.
Most men marrying child brides escape punishment. Those who do come before the courts are charged with sexual abuse.
Under existing laws in Turkey, men convicted of sexual abuse where the victim is under 12 face a minimum of 10 years imprisonment. For victims aged 12-18, the sentence is 8 to 15 years in jail. In rape cases, the minimum sentence for an offender when the victim is under 12 is 18 years in prison or 16 years if the victim is aged between 12 and 18.
#TecavüzMeşrulaştırılamaz (Rape cannot be legalised)
There has been a furious backlash to ruling party’s controversial proposal, which has been hotly debated all day. Thousands of Turks have taken to social media to express their disgust and tweets using the hashtag #TecavüzMeşrulaştırılamaz (‘rape cannot be legalised) became the top trending topic in Turkey on Friday night.
Actor Nejat İşler tweeted, ‘You call on women to protest, but for me first we need fathers to stand up and refuse to call their daughter’s rapist “my son-in-law”’.
Kadınlar ayaklansın diyorsunuz ama bence önce kızının tecavüzcüsüne “damadım” diyemeyecek babalar kalksın ayağa.#TecavüzMeşrulaştirilamaz
— Nejat İşler (@bennejatisler) November 18, 2016
Another, GnL, wrote: ‘How did you meet? I raped [her], and then, you know, I abided by the law. We got married.’
Nasıl tanıştınız? Tecavüz etmiştim, sonrası işte kanuna uydum.Evlendik. #TecavüzMeşrulaştirilamaz
— GnL (@gnllng_) November 18, 2016
Emişşş tweeted, “I watched Bekir Bozdağ’s statement while he wasn’t embarrassed I wanted the earth to swallow me up God damn”.
Bekir Bozdağın açıklamasını izledim de o söylerken utanmamış ben yerin dibine girdim be Allah kahretsin #TecavüzMeşrulaştırılamaz
— Emişşş (@fenerliemine) November 18, 2016