Draft legislation aims to overturn sex assault convictions if offender marries his victim.
The U.N. children’s fund said on Saturday it was “deeply concerned” over a draft bill in Turkey that would overturn a child sex assault conviction if the offender married his victim.
The bill passed an initial reading in parliament on Thursday, despite fierce criticism from critics who accused the government of encouraging the rape of minors. But Ankara has dismissed the criticism, insisting the legislation is aimed at tackling the widespread phenomenon of child marriages.
“UNICEF is deeply concerned by the draft bill on sexual offenders recently submitted to the parliament which introduces some type of amnesty for child abuse perpetrators,” said spokesman Christophe Boulierac. “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,” he said.
If passed, the bill—which will be put to another vote in the coming days—will allow for the release from prison of men guilty 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.”
Officials say the legislation would affect 3,000 families. “We call on all members of the Turkish grand National Assembly to do their outmost to ensure that children in Turkey are better protected from these hideous crimes,” said Boulierac. “The legal framework for the respect and protection of child rights in Turkey should continue to be strengthened to guarantee that children are protected against all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation, including child marriage.”
In an apparent bid to soften the controversy, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim ordered the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which introduced the bill, to hold talks with the opposition in parliament on the plan, a Turkish official said. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag denied the bill had anything to do with legitimizing rape, saying critics were “distorting” the issue on purpose.
He said marriages involving minors were “unfortunately a reality” in Turkey but that the men involved “were not rapists or sexual aggressors.” The legal age of consent in Turkey is 18 but child marriage is widespread, especially in the southeast.
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 as opposed to a much younger child.