A bill to quash the convictions of men for child sex assaults if they marry their victim being debated by Turkey’s parliament provoked fury on Friday with critics accusing it of encouraging child rape.
The government angrily lashed out at the criticism, saying it was a crude distortion of an attempt to grapple with the legal consequences of child marriage in the country.
The bill was approved in an initial reading on Thursday evening and will be voted on again in a second debate in the coming days.
If passed, the law would allow the quashing the convictions of men convicted of assaulting a minor if the act was committed without “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” and if the aggressor “marries the victim”.
The bill has been brought to parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) but sparked immediate alarm among the opposition.
“The AKP is pushing through a text which pardons those who marry the child that they raped,” said an MP for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Ozgur Ozel.
On Twitter, the hashtag #TecavuzMesrulastirilamaz (Rape Cannot be Legitimised) became a top-trending topic as users took to social media to express their anger.
But Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag denied that the bill had anything to do with legitimising rape, saying critics were “distorting” the issue on purpose.
He argued the bill is aimed at helping couples who fall foul of the law because they have underage but consensual sex and want to marry.
“When a child is then born from this non-official union, the doctor warns the prosecutor and the man is sent to prison, putting the child and mother into financial difficulties.”
He said marriages involving minors were “unfortunately a reality” in Turkey but the men involved “were not rapists or sexual aggressors.” He said the measure would affect some 3,000 families.
The latest controversy comes after Turkey’s constitutional court in July annulled a criminal code provision punishing as “sexual abuse” all sexual acts involving children under the age of 15.
Defenders of that law argued it made a distinction between cases of sexual acts involving a young teenager or a toddler.
The legal age of consent in Turkey is 18 but child marriage is widespread in parts of the country, especially the southeast.
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