Turkey withdraws child rape bill after street protests

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has withdrawn a bill that pardons men convicted of sex with underage girls if they have married them.

The bill, part of a package of amendments to the legal system, was sent back for further work just hours before a final vote in parliament.

It had sparked protests across Turkish society and was condemned abroad.

Critics said it would legitimise statutory rape and encourage the practice of taking child brides.

UN agencies had called on the government not to approve the bill, arguing that it would damage the country’s ability to combat sexual abuse and child marriage.

But the government says the main aim is to exonerate men imprisoned for marrying an underage girl apparently with her or her family’s consent.

The draft law will now be returned to a commission which will take into account the views of the opposition and civil society, Mr Yildirim said.

This would allow for “broad consensus” and to “give time for the opposition parties to develop their proposals.”

This bill sparked a rare thing here: cross-party opposition. The AKP MPs who proposed it insisted it would not pardon rapists or sexual abusers and was simply intended to exonerate men who marry underage girls apparently with consent.

However, critics said that in patriarchal Turkey, a young girl would feel unable to give consent and so the bill would have legitimised rape and encouraged child brides. When conservative, usually pro-government, women spoke out against it – including the president’s wife – the bill was doomed to failure.

Child marriage is a problem here. Former President Abdullah Gul famously married when he was 30 and his wife 15.

But women’s groups say the solution is not controversial legislation such as this but real opportunities for girls. And they say the Islamist AKP has encouraged female subservience, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling childless women “deficient”.

It’s led to a huge rise in physical abuse of women, with the murder rate said to have increased by 1,400% between 2003 and 2010 – although some believe that number is partly due to more cases being reported than ever before.

Turkey’s legal age of consent is 18 but the practice of underage weddings in religious ceremonies remains widespread.

Opposition parties heavily criticised the bill which had been approved in an initial parliamentary reading on Thursday.

The ruling AK Party dominates parliament in Ankara.

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