“I am here because I listen to my consciousness. Because I have children, because of my children. Because I desire to live in a country where we can still live”. (Kadir Demir, protester)
A law which would provide amnesty to men who have sex with girls under the age of 18 if they marry their victims is currently set to be introduced by the Turkish government. The proposed law could release men who have been sentenced for committing underage sexual offences such as statutory rape. Whilst the age difference between the two people has not been finalised yet, it is likely to be set between 10-15 years.
An almost identical bill was rejected in 2016 after it received national and international outrage. Nonetheless, four years later Turkey is attempting to pass this archaic law again labelled as the “marry your rapist bill” by many. The legislation is backed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who is vocal on his stance about women and their rights; women and men are not equal and it is against nature to think or act otherwise.
Critics such as women’s right group and opposing party Peoples Democratic Party are advocating for the government to prevent this law from passing. Not only is there cause for concern that the law legitimises statutory rape and child marriage but also allows for the increase of child and sexual exploitation, preventing those who experience such situations from obtaining help.
The current age of consent and marriage in Turkey is 18. Children, however, can marry at the age of 17 with their parents’ consent. The President publicly advocates his preference for people to marry at a younger age rather than wait until they are older. Erdoğan believes that a strong country is formed by having large, strong families and encourages people to marry early and have at least three children. His views perhaps, provide an insight into why there is such a strong push to pass a controversial law which is not consistent with any human rights treaty.
It remains unclear what the consequences would be if a victim refused to marry the perpetrator or indeed if this option would be possible at all. Sex before marriage is regarded as morally wrong and unchaste in Turkey. Thus, even if there are no legal consequences it is likely that she would still experience social and or societal backlash.
The bill is especially troubling in a time where speaking out about sexual abuse against women has finally started to receive a small percentage of the attention it deserves. With countries such as Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon abolishing a similar law as the one Turkey is trying to pass, one must question why is Turkey taking such a step back when more conservative Middle Eastern and North African countries are doing the opposite?
It is concerning to see that the president previously stated he would not reduce sentencing for sexual abuse yet is still allowing the bill to be passed through. Such actions appear contradictory and self-serving as it could be perceived as a way to increase the nation’s population. A victim having to marry their perpetrator results in otherwise illegitimate children becoming legitimised. The Turkish Penal Code does not include specific measures against child marriage but it is a crime to commit sexual assault against a child aged 15 or under. However, the right to report this is only given to the child who is unlikely to do so due to fear of repercussions and or a lack of awareness of the right to do so. Further, attempts to pass such a bill contravene the safeguarding measures in place for children and minors.
It is crucial to note that if the proposed law is passed it could lead to a reduction of the current age of consent with the very real possibility of a steep increase in forced child marriage. This is especially concerning for women residing in Turkey who are not only shamed for having sex outside of marriage but also heavily discouraged from having abortions. Whilst an abortion is legal up until the tenth week of pregnancy it is treated as illegal with almost every state hospital refusing or delaying the procedure until the legal limit of ten weeks has surpassed. If a woman is able to find a hospital which will carry out the procedure, she must first gain her husband’s permission. or if she is under the age of 18 she must gain her parents’ consent. The likelihood of obtaining his approval is unlikely to happen as Turkey is a conservative state. The President is known to strongly condemn the act and has likened abortion to murder and labelled birth control as treason.
In a country where 38% of women face some form of physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, introducing a bill like this sends a clear message: women are inferior to men. The statistic above does not account for all the unreported and undocumented violent acts committed against women nor does it acknowledge those under the age of 15. So, whilst the official figure stands at 38% the reality of violence against women in Turkey is likely much higher. The United Nations expressed their concern and stated the bill would “weaken Turkey’s ability to combat sexual abuse and child marriage…and would create perception of impunity in favour of perpetrators of such child rights violations”.
The bill is masked as protecting family name and honour, it is deeply saddening that the government have failed to see the dangerous repercussions and torment young girls are likely to face as a result of marrying their assailant. A decade and a half ago the country repealed the rape-marriage law in 2005 in hope that it would assist their entrance into the EU. Unfortunately, the passing of such a law is detrimental not only to women but also to Turkey’s chance of perhaps joining the EU and the modern world.