A row has erupted between the Turkish and Austrian governments following a decision by the Turkish Constitutional court to effectively lower the age of consent in Turkey to 12.
The decision, made last month, was reported in Austrian newspapers whose headlines were used in news tickers at Vienna’s international airport. This caused Turkey to summon Austria’s charge d’affairs on Saturday. The headline has now been removed from the ticker.
Earlier this summer, the Turkish Hurriyet paper reported:
The Constitutional Court has ruled to annul a provision that punishes all sexual acts against children under the age of 15 as “sexual abuse,” stirring outrage from academics and women’s rights activists who warn that the decision will lead to cases of child abuse going unpunished.
The Constitutional Court discussed the issue upon an application from a district court, which complained that the current law does not discriminate between age groups in cases of child sexual abuse and treats a 14-year-old as equal to a four-year-old.
The local court said the law does not provide legal consequences for the “consent” of victims in cases where the child victim is from 12 to 15 years of age and able to understand the meaning of the sexual act. “This creates an imbalance between legal benefits and sanctions that should be preserved in crime and punishment,” the application stated.
With seven votes against six, the Constitutional Court agreed with the local court and decided to annul the provision. The decision will come into effect on Jan. 13, 2017.
This has been interpreted as the court urging leniency for sex with “consenting” young teens, though regime supporters in the country have said it simply means stricter penalties for abusers of younger children.
Kronen Zeitung reported that the district court claimed a 15-year old’s consent was scarcely different to that of a 12 to 14-year-old’s. They argued that the mental capacity of a 12-year-old was not hugely different from a 15-year-old.
But local activists have not welcomed the decision.
“First of all, every individual under the age of 18 is a ‘child’ according to international conventions. Seeking a child’s consent in cases of sexual abuse is out of the question,” said Prof. Bahar Gokler, the chair of the Association to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect.
He called the decision “calamitous”.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government seems more concerned with the reporting of the issue than the issue itself.
“This [Austrian] headline tarnishes the image of Turkey, and is false,” a Turkish diplomat said after his Austrian counterpart was summoned to the ministry.
“Turkey allows sex with children under the age of 15,” the headline on the news ticker said.
“Our disturbance and reaction over this display which tarnishes Turkey’s image and deliberately misinforms the public have been strongly conveyed to the charge d’affaires,” the ministry official added.
There remains confusion over Turkey’s age of consent laws, which differ for minors consenting to one another, and appears to draw differences for those consenting – or not – to sex with those much older than them.
Canan Güllü, head of the Association of Turkish women’s organisations also expressed distaste for the court’s ruling saying, “People will be able to abduct children, rape and marry young.”
Güllü added that the association would be looking at every possible avenue of appealing the decision and would look toward the European Court of Human Rights is need be. The move may be hindered by the fact that after the failed coup attempt last month President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suspended the human rights convention in Turkey claiming the situation was a national emergency.