Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has caused an outcry after proposing an intensely controversial bill that would pardon those found guilty of statutory rape of minor girls if they married their victims.
The 49-article draft bill was approved after it was brought forward in parliament by the conservative party at a night session on Thursday but fell short of gaining a majority vote required for it to be passed into law.
The parliament will convene again on Tuesday to vote on the bill.
The bill says in all pre-November 16 cases of child sex abuse involving girls aged 15 or younger and committed “without force, threat, or any other restriction on consent,” the sentence will be “deferred” if the culprit marries his victim.
In 2005, a similar law was abolished; hence, the bill includes all such cases during the past 11 years. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP hopes that by turning the bill into law some 3,000 child rapists, who are currently in prison due to the current law, will be pardoned.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag defended the bill on national television on Friday, saying it was a response to the “unfortunate reality” of child marriage in Turkey’s conservative society
He cited cases of imprisoned perpetrators, who had left the teen mother and her son in financial difficulties, adding, “Those who say ‘rapists will benefit from this’ are distorting the situation.”
The bill, however, has infuriated all three opposition parties and women’s associations, who argue that it would encourage forced marriages and legalize marriage to rapists.
“If a 50 or 60-year-old man is told to marry an 11-year-old girl 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,” said Omer Suha Aldan, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Furthermore, the CHP released a statement on Friday saying that the bill “has severely damaged the reputation” of the parliament.
However, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim defended the bill, saying the CHP was trying to “distort” the issue.
Erkan Akcay, the deputy chair of the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), also condemned the bill as “outrageous” and “impossible to accept.”
President of Federation of Women’s Associations Canan Gullu also denounced the draft, saying all early marriages should be prohibited.
“Families pressed girls aged 11 to 17 to marry unlawfully, and public action is filed when the girl gives birth at hospital or when schools notice the situation,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM) also slammed the bill for its failure to determine the elements related to “compulsion, threat and will.”
According to women’s rights advocate Nuriye Kadan, almost a third of all marriages in Turkey involve child brides.