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Turkey withdraws child rape ‘loophole’ bill after street protests

© Adem Altan, AFP | Turkish women stage a protest in the capital Ankara on November 19, 2016 against a government bill that would overturn men's convictions for child sex assault if they married their victim

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2016-11-22

Turkey’s government on Tuesday withdrew a controversial bill that would have overturned the convictions of thousands of male sex offenders after protests and widespread outcry, including by groups close to the ruling AK Party.

The bill, which would have allowed the release from jail of men convicted of raping an underage girl if they married their victim, was approved in an initial reading in parliament on Thursday.

It was scheduled for a further vote on Tuesday, before Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim withdrew it “to allow for the broad consensus the president requested."

Opposition parties from across the political spectrum – and, critically, allies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - condemned the bill.

It would have allowed men found guilty of sexually assaulting children to be released if the act was committed without “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” and if the aggressor “marries the victim”.

Detractors, including several UN agencies, warned the bill would legitimise rape and child marriage.

Thousands protest

More than 800,000 people signed an online petition for the legislation to be withdrawn.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Istanbul and other cities at the weekend, piling pressure on AK Party lawmakers who finally announced they would revise the bill.

"We hope Turkey will do the right thing and not pass this bill that promotes violence," said Antonia Kirkland of campaign group Equality Now.

Amid mounting pressure, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag attempted to explain the reasoning behind the proposed bill. He contended that it was aimed at men who married women under the age of 18 with the consent of the family.

He said marriages involving minors were "unfortunately a reality" in Turkey, and that these men "were not rapists or sexual aggressors."

Erdogan family anger

Among the bill’s critics was the Women and Democracy Association (Kadem), whose vice-president is crucially Erdogan’s own daughter, Sumeyye Erdogan. The group challenged the idea that judges would be able to distinguish between acts of sexual coercion from consent. “How can a young girl’s will be determined?” the group asked.

Tas Bilge, a feminist activist who has spent years battling child marriage in Turkey, told FRANCE 24 that the legislation was a “catastrophe” that would “unravel everything we have worked for”.

Campaign group Girls Not Brides says Turkey has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe, with an estimated 15 percent of girls married before the age of 18.

Bilge told FRANCE 24 that activists were already observing an upsurge in forced marriages among Syrian refugee minors.

Date created : 2016-11-22

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