Turkish government has withdrawn a controversial bill, which would have pardoned some three thousand people incarcerated for the sexual abuse of minors if they agreed to marry their victims.
The bill was met with strong social opposition and thousands of people, predominantly women, took to the streets in numerous cities around the country to protest against what they believed was a form of legalising the rape of minor. This comes at a time when a campaign against the executive’s proposal had also been articulated abroad.
Both the Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, and the Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdag, were brought into question. It was the intervention of the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that put a stop to the final stages of the parliamentary process, so that the law would be drafted differently.
Many people called for Bozdag’s resignation, despite him blaming the critics of the law for having misinterpreted it and his intention to seek a legal exit for the thousands of marriages involving underage girls, in which the birth of a child has resulted in the prosecution of the husband for the rape of a minor.
It is clear that in Turkey this type of religious union is accepted in certain social sectors and regions, despite the fact that there is a strong chance that such weddings are forced upon the young girls. In spite of this, the only legal marriage recognised in the country is civil marriage in which both spouses are above the age of 17.
However, the question of pardoning those condemned appears to have eclipsed other sections of the bill. For example, the section regarding the age of ‘consent’ suggested a reduction of the age from 15 to 12; a change that women’s rights organisations fear will become a norm in the future.
The Penal Code in Turkey, in article 103, stipulates that consent does not exist for sexual relations involving those under the age of 15. The government strove to lower this age to 12 using arguments based on ‘customs’, ‘traditions’ and ‘religion’.
In an interview with the daily paper Hürriyet, Güllü cited as an example the cases of some provincial governors who, on being invited to engage with minors, participated in parties and gave gifts to the couple, for which they ought to be investigated. In such instances families often offer their daughters to old men in exchange for a dowry, money, gold or cattle.
With regards to this issue, the points of view held by the government and by experts are poles apart. As expressed by Doctor Akca Toprak Ergonen, who works with female victims of abuse and maltreatment, ‘physical and sexual violence is more common in marriages where the wife is under the age of 18 at the time of marriage’.
This is also demonstrated in a study by the University of Hacettepe carried out in 2014 in collaboration with the Ministry of Family and Social Issues. It states that half of the women who marry under the age of 18 become victims of domestic violence and 20% become victims of sexual violence.
The percentages registered with regards to women who get married later than the average age are considerably lower in both cases.
Moreover, official figures also show that marriages involving minors in Turkey are on the rise, tripling in number since 2006 and reaching a figure of 438 thousand, according to information published by the Institute of Statistics for Turkey and the Ministry of Justice.
The problem is not only that the bill does not protect the rights of minors, but that it also seeks to protect those who violate the penal code.
Amongst them are the husbands; 69% of whom are 5, 10 or more years older than their wives, the families; who in many cases agree to the wedding behind their daughter’s back, and the imams who celebrate a rite that does not generate civil rights for the couple.
For this reason, the most recent report from the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) assured that the recent ruling by the Turkish Constitutional Court – decriminalising religious ceremonies that are not preceded by a civil marriage – could lead to a rise in the number of premature marriages and polygamy. (PL)
Photos: Pixabay – (Translated by Eleanor Gooch)