The parliament in Turkey is set to introduce a bill that will allow men marry underage girls they have sex with without consent, in order to avoid punishment.
The legislation, known as “marry-your-rapist” bill, which lawmakers are planning to introduce at the end of January, has sparked anger among women’s rights campaigners in the country.
Critics argue that the legislation, which the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is urging the government to reject, does not only legitimises child marriage and statutory rape, but also paves way for child abuse and sexual exploitation.
A similar bill was defeated in Turkey in 2016, after national and global outrage.
The legislation will only pardoned men, if they have sex without “force or threat”.
United Nations agencies warned that the bill would generate “a landscape of impunity for child abuse, and leave victims vulnerable to experiencing additional mistreatment and distress from their assailants.”
“Marry-your-rapist” bills have been seen across the world and are pushed in the name of protecting and safeguarding family “honour”.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a campaigner, who specialises in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan for Equality Now, a Non-Government Organisation, which aims to promote the rights of women and girls, said it was “shocking” that politicians are trying to pass a bill that “provides impunity for perpetrators of child sexual exploitation”.
“I applaud the brave work of women’s rights campaigners in Turkey who are taking a stand against this discriminatory bill and pushing back again regressive forces that are seeking to remove current legal protections for girls. Similar ‘marry-your-rapist’ legal provisions have been on the statute books of countries across the Middle East and North Africa, ” she told The Independent.
“Thanks to years of campaigning by women’s rights activists and lawmakers, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Palestine have all removed these loopholes in recent years. Rather than attempting to introduce legislation that harms women’s rights and protections, Turkish lawmakers should take heed of these advances in repealing gender discriminatory laws.”
While the legal age of consent is 18 in Turkey, a 2018 government report on child marriage estimated that a total of 482,908 girls were married in the last decade.
Violence against women and girls is prevalent in Turkey, with 38 per cent of Turkish women having suffered physical or sexual violence from a partner, according to the United Nations.
A campaign group called ‘We Will Stop Femicide’, estimates that about 409 women were murdered by a partner or a family member in the country in 2017, a stark rise from the total of 237 four years before.
Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said equality between men and women is “against nature” at a summit in Istanbul in 2014.
“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing. It is against nature,” he said.
He urged women to have at least three children, and argued that a woman’s life was “incomplete” if she did not reproduce back in 2016.
“A woman who says ‘because I am working I will not be a mother’ is actually denying her feminity,” he stated.
“A women who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house, however successful her working life is, is deficient, is incomplete.”