Protests against child abuse law in Turkey will continue

Protest in Istanbul against a law perceived as facilitating child abuse
Protest in Istanbul against a law perceived as facilitating child abuse Yasin Akgul/AFP

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on 22 November the government was withdrawing a controversial bill that could overturn men's convictions for child-sex assault. His remarks came after a weekend of angry protests by demonstrators who said the bill was a blank check for child abuse.


Audio report

Minutes before the vote on an amendment to the Law on Sexual Harassment of Minors in the Turkish Penal Code was voted, the ruling AKP party inserted an extra sentence stating that “if the perpetrator of sexual harassment (of a minor) agrees to marry the victim, and if they do get married, the perpetrators' sentence will be suspended.”

The government argues that if [mostly male, older]  theperpetrator was jailed, his family would not have a breadwinner, and thus condemn them to economic hardship.

But critics didn’t buy it, and even women sympathetic to the ruling AKP party took the streets.

On Friday, 18 November, massive protests gathered in several Turkish cities.

“We were angry,” says Sehnaz Kiymaz, a board member of the Istanbul based Women for Women’s Rights.

“The public was furious, and we got a very wide public support in our anger and protest, because it is unacceptable for any perpetrator of sexual harassment, to marry their victims.”

“There is a lot of social pressure in Turkey on young girls who get harassed and raped, to marry their perpetrators.

“So there is no way to say that these girls who consent to marriage with the perpetrators would be doing that willingly and it is just not acceptable to make a woman marry her rapist and continue her life with him.”

Over the weekend, and today, several demonstrations took place in Turkey, of people angry with the law that lift sentences for men who were married to under aged children.

The Government had argued that families of the imprisoned men did have a bread winner in the house.

But Sehnaz Kiymaz, a board member of the Istanbul based Women for Women’s rights, one of the organizers of the protests, explains why she did not agree:

The law is only partly repealed, and protests are set to continue.

But this is not without risk. Currently, Turkey is in a state of emergency, after a failed military coup attempt last July. The government accuses a group led by the us-based preacher Fetallah Gulen of setting up a shadow government, that has infiltrated all walks of life.

And a wave of paranoia struck the country after hundreds of arrests involving police, judges, journalists and soldiers landed in jail. NGO’s were not left untouched.

“They have suspended the operations of 370 NGO's two weeks ago,” says Sehnaz.

“Some of them included women's organizations and children's rights organizations which we know worked well.”

“The accusation for all of those NGO's was that they were supporting different terrorist groups. So everything is kind of risky right now.”

This week, all 370 NGO’s were ordered to close definitely.

In a similar development, some 15,000 state officials were fired, under suspicion of being part of the Guellen group.

“This is a rather enigmatic situation because it does appear that the Guellenist movement was very widely organized,” says Iltar Turan, a potlical scientist with Bilgi University.

“But it is very difficult to essentially identify any specific things that they have committed so far.”

“So basically because they are part of the Guellenist movement and there is evidence for that, their employment is being terminated.”

But the maxim “innocent until proven guilty” is not in the dictionary of the Turkish government.

“Experience did show that these people can take orders [from Guelen],” says Turan.

“But on the other hand many of them didn't do anything yet.”

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