Turkey’s ruling party has begun a second attempt at introducing a law to grant rapists amnesty as long as they marry their victim, four years after a similar bill sparked outrage at home and internationally.
The legislation, which was first debated by parliament on 16 January, would give men suspended sentences for child sex offences if the two parties get married and the age difference between them is less than 10 years.
Opposition parties and women’s rights groups have been quick to point out that the bill in effect legitimises child marriage and statutory rape in a country where the legal age of consent is 18.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s conservative Justice and Development party (AKP) has said the proposal is designed to deal with Turkey’s widespread child marriage problem.
“In 2016 the government introduced a [similar] draft law on amnesty for child abuse perpetrators. All women stood against it and the bill was withdrawn after our protests,” she said. “If they dare to try again, we will fight against it again.”
“Marry your rapist” clauses are present in legislation relating to sexual consent in many countries in the Middle East and Latin America. In recent years such loopholes have been closed after protests against them in Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia.
Turkey appears to have travelled in the opposite direction. After abolishing such laws in 2005, a 2016 bill that would have allowed the release from prison of men guilty of assaulting a minor if the aggressor married the victim and the act was committed without “force or threat” provoked widespread fury and was eventually defeated.
Ankara insisted that the bill’s intention was distorted by critics. “There are people who get married before reaching the legal age. They just don’t know the law,” the then prime minister Binali Yıldırım said at the time, adding that the measure aimed to “get rid of this injustice”.
His comments were echoed by the justice minister Bekir Bozdağ, who said marriages involving minors were “unfortunately a reality” in Turkey but the men involved “were not rapists or sexual aggressors”.