Top government officials in Turkey have defended a piece of legislation that would allow men to evade punishment for sexual assault by marrying the underage girls they abused.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag insisted the bill was aimed at regulating an existing problem of child marriage and that it does not intend to grant amnesty to rapists.
The proposed law does not apply to cases where force was used.
Among the Roma community the problem was especially frequent, Bozdag was quoted as saying by the Dogan news agency. He charged that men often married underage girls at the behest of their parents.
Critics from women’s rights groups and secular opposition parties insisted the proposal effectively legalizes existing instances of child marriage and does not help fix the problem.
The bill only applies to criminal cases opened prior to this week.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim charged that the opposition was playing “dirty politics” with the affair.
However, he has ordered his conservative-Islamic Justice and Development Party, whose members presented the bill to parliament, to consult with the opposition parties on the matter.
The bill will face a vote on Tuesday in parliament. It received a majority of votes this week but that session did not have the needed quorum to push the bill into law.
Upset has been voiced even in pro-government circles, including by a woman’s group supporting the conservative-Islamic ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and a female TV presenter on a pro-government channel.
Some have questioned how a minor can ever legally be considered to have given consent to an adult for sex, a key part of the government’s justification for the bill.
Protests have taken place in several spots around the country, some denouncing child abuse as a “crime against humanity.”
On social media, angry citizens used the hashtag #TecavuzMesrulastirilamaz (rape cannot be legitimized).
An online petition has gathered more than 734,000 supporters.
Marriage under the age of 17 is prohibited in Turkey, without court permission. The government says the automatic opening of cases against men who have sex with minors results in cases where families are broken up.
Some 3,000 men are expected to be affected by the bill, if it passes. Under the proposal, the men’s punishment would be deferred.
If the marriage falls apart and the man is found to be at fault for the divorce, the punishment could be reinstated. (dpa/NAN)