by Yesim Usluca
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
ANKARA, Turkey — The Turkish parliament approved a preliminary bill which would clear men accused of raping underage girls if they marry her.
The bill, which was brought to parliament by President Erdogan’s party, was preliminarily approved on the evening of November 17th. The parliament will debate the bill a second time on November 22nd before casting their final vote.
The Turkish government stated that the bill is designed to pardon men only on the basis of sex that is “without force or threat,” and if the offense was committed before November 11, 2016.
There has been strong opposition to the bill in many parts of the country, including by members of parliament, with many protestors stating that it is an encouragement for rape. Critics of the bill declare that it “legitimizes rape and child marriage,” and that it “lets off men who are aware of their crime.” Parliament member Ozgur Ozel stated that “sexual abuse is a crime” which does not require consent. He added that “seeking the consent of a child is something that universal law does not provide for.”
It is anticipated that approximately 3,000 men accused of assaulting a girl under 18 will have their convictions repealed if the bill is passed. On Saturday, November 19th, thousands of people attended a demonstration in Istanbul protesting the bill. The crowds, wielding banners stating “#AKP take your hands off my body,” shouted anti-government slogans, declaring “we will not shut up. We will not obey. Withdraw the bill immediately.” Further mass protests are expected if the bill passes following Tuesday’s vote.
The UN Children’s Fund stated that it was “deeply concerned” over the bill. The Fund’s spokesman indicated that “these abject forms of violence against children are crimes which should be punished as such, and in all cases the best interest of the child should prevail.”
The government has defended the bill by stating that its aim is not to excuse rape, but to “rehabilitate” men who may not have realized the unlawfulness of their sexual relations or to prevent underage girls who have sex from “feeling ostracized by their community.” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that the bill “is not an amnesty for rape,” and that the country has very “serious punishments for rape.” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag indicated that the bill could help couples who want to marry after engaging in consensual relations. He stated that when a child is born from a non-official union, the mother and child are subjected to financial difficulty because the father will be arrested after the doctor informs the prosecutor.
Turkey has experienced a steep increase in violence against women in the past decade, with 40% of women reporting sexual or physical abuse.
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