Turkey withdraws law that required child abuse victims to marry abuser
This month, thousands of people took to the streets in Turkey after it was announced that the Parliament was considering a bill that would have allowed child abusers to escape punishment if they agreed to marry their victim. As a result of the international outrage that the bill produced, the Parliament has agreed to withdraw the bill for reconsideration.
That isn’t to say that the bill is dead. The government has instead routed it to a sub-committee that will decide which elements can be kept.
The bill was originally proposed to offer some three thousand men languishing in Turkey’s prisons for child sexual abuse a chance to escape punishment if they agreed to marry their victims. Of course, as one of the opposition members of parliament stated, such a measure would have essentially trapped the girls in a life long prison being forced to not only get married as a child but to marry their abusers.
The bill was introduced this month by members of the ruling Justice and Development Party who claimed it was necessary to prevent men who had consensual sex with underage girls from being struck by financial difficulties when the man was sent to prison and the girl was pregnant. This is a particular problem in Turkey where the marriage of older men to children is common, particularly in rural areas. An estimated 15% of girls in Turkey marry before their 18th birthday. While this is technically illegal, the lack of proper birth registration in the country leaves a wide loophole through which families can navigate when attempting to marry off their underage daughters.
People around the world reacted with horror to the obvious implication of the bill, which is that it legalizes child sexual abuse if the abuser marries his victim. And in a country like Turkey, where rape victims are seen as less desirable for marriage, and women face extraordinary social pressure to get married, the victim would often be left with little choice but to consent to such an arrangement.
And of course, a law that seeks to make it easier for men to marry underage girls is a problem by itself since the focus should clearly be on ending the practice of child marriage to begin with.
The protests in Turkey were matched by protests all over the world. Men and women marched in the streets in massive demonstrations against the measure. Many chanting slogans saying that they would not be silent while this injustice occurred. And it would be inaccurate to suggest that the majority of members of parliament were behind this bill. Opposition began early and was fierce, with many MP’s arguing that the bill was little more than the legalization of child abuse.
In the wake of all this opposition, the ruling party was persuaded to withdrawal the bill for more consideration. At the moment, the bill remains in committee. But this is yet another troubling sign of the way Turkey seems to be drifting away from democratic values.