Around 3,000 women gathered in Istanbul's Kadiroy square demanding the proposal be scrapped.
The Turkish government agreed to the revision of a bill which would allow men convicted of statutory rape to go free if they married their victims, after thousands of women protested under the slogan "rape cannot be legitimised" (tecavüz meşrulaştırılamaz in Turkish).
The protests took place across the country on Saturday (19 November), with as many as 3,000 women gathering in Istanbul's Kadiroy square demanding to scrap the draft law, which would release from prison men who were convicted of child sex abuse committed "without force or threat," if the perpetrator married his victim. A petition asking Parliament to cancel the proposal reached more than 800,000 signatures in three days.
The protests were backed by various NGOs, including the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), which is perceived as being close to the government as its vice-president is Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar, the daughter of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The organisation issued a statement demanding the government to review the draft of the law, which it said could open the way for more abuse of children.
The Justice Ministry first reacted by renewing its backing for the bill, but Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım consulted with his deputy and with president Erdoğan and later told the press the draft would be taken to the opposition parties and revised as necessary.
The prime minister and Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ are also expected to meet with KADEM on Monday 21 November.
Turkey needs to make changes to its penal code by 13 January 2017, or else people convicted of child abuse would be released from jail, since the constitutional court controversially annulled part of the criminal code which classified all sexual acts with children under 15 as sexual abuse in July.
A new protest in front of the Turkish parliament in Ankara is scheduled for Tuesday 22 November, when MPs are expected to discuss and vote on the bill.
According to women's rights advocates, one in three marriages in Turkey involves underage girls, although the actual number may be higher as many child marriages are performed with only the presence of an imam and are not officially registered with authorities.
Ahead of the protests, the UN expressed concerns over the bill. "These abject forms of violence against children are crimes which should be punished as such, and in all cases the best interest of the child should prevail," spokesman Christophe Boulierac told AFP.
Thousands protest in Turkey forcing revision of controversial child abuse law November 21, 2016Tweet
The bill in Turkey which will enable “the release of sexual abuse suspects by marrying them with the victim” caused an outcry; however, Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the head of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), is “grateful” for the bill.
Fincancı, who is also a medical doctor, has been examining and helping sexually abused children for almost 30 years. She is quite right when she said, “This bill has made the threats concerning our children more visible.” As a matter of fact, we have been discussing this bill for days.
The chairwoman of TÜSİAD, the prestigious business association, Cansen Başaran Symes started her speech at the business summit in the Aegean province of İzmir, held over the weekend, not about the worrying rise of the U.S. dollar and increasing unemployment rate, but with the sexual abuse bill. She said, “The mentality of excusing the matter of children’s sexual abuse should be absolutely abandoned.”
In the meantime, women’s associations of different views and backgrounds held meetings with cabinet ministers, there have been talk shows on TV channels questioning this issue. As writing this, several columnists, both men and women, are also writing on the topic.
Child brides are one of the most tragic issues of this country that we as women journalists have been writing about for years.
These victims are coming out of the dark now, and are sharing their horrific experiences with us, the victims of incest, those abused since a very young age, have been in silence for so long.
Very recently, Turkey’s famous singer Nazan Öncel wore a black veil on stage at a concert, as a form of protest to the bill. She said she was also a victim of incest, and suffered the tragedy when she was 9. Thanks to Nazan Öncel, all segments of the society are becoming aware of incest and are questioning it.
Canan Güllü, the head of the Federation of Women’s Associations in Turkey, conducted a survey called the “Turkey Incest Map.” She carried out the survey in every province, district and village in Turkey, to find out how common it is.
Güllü said the frequency of incest is 40 percent. This makes us realize that no child, boy or girl, is safe at home.
No doubt on this – Pandora’s Box has been opened, considering since 2002 until now 440,000 young girls under the age of 18 have become mothers. Within this figure, those who are under the age of 15, in other words, those sexually abused are 15,937.
Child abuse cases have tripled in the past 10 years; 438,000 underage girls have been married, according to a data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute and the Justice Ministry.
Unfortunately, instead of questioning why these cases have tripled over the past 10 years, there are attempts to find ways to protect sexual abusers.
For instance, in the western province of Manisa, are you going let a 68-year-old rapist marry a 4-year-old child that he raped?
I hope the parliament has understood, after so much outrage, that in the case of pardoning a sexual abuser, the number of child brides will increase, and we will not be able to protect our children against sexual abuse.