Turkey’s ruling party has dropped a controversial proposed law which would see child rapists pardoned if they married their victims while it undertakes a consultation on the proposal.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım confirmed to reporters that the AKP would be shelving the bill following widespread opposition to the measure, which critics said would allow men accused of sexually abusing children to avoid punishment.
Yildirim said the draft will be withdrawn from the parliament’s general assembly and sent back to a commission for review. A consultation will also be launched in line with a call from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for a wider consensus.
“This issue will be reviewed in commission, and if there is a proposal we will review and amend it,” Yildirim said at a news conference in Ankara. “If not, we will solve the issue by taking into consideration the recommendations from the people and NGOs.”
Yildirim previously denied that the measure amounted to an “amnesty for rape”, arguing that it would only be used in instances where men had been jailed having married girls under 18 years old in religious ceremonies with the permission of their families.
The proposal would have allowed sentencing in cases of sexual abuse committed “without force, threat or trick” before 16 November 2016 to be indefinitely postponed if the perpetrator married the victim, and would have seen some 3,000 convicts pardoned.
On Saturday, UNICEF, the UN’s children’s fund, expressed concern over the measure, saying violence against children must be punished.
Spokesman Christophe Boulierac said: “UNICEF is deeply concerned by the draft bill on sexual offenders recently submitted to the parliament which introduces some type of amnesty for child abuse perpetrators.
“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,” he said.
On the same day around 3,000 protestors, mostly women, gathered in Istanbul’s Kadikoy square to oppose the law, clapping and chanting: “We will not shut up. We will not obey. Withdraw the bill immediately!”
Some waved banners with slogans such as “Rape cannot be legitimised” and “AKP, take your hands off my body.”
Protests also took place in Izmir, Trabzon, and other Turkish cities, while a petition opposing the law gained 600,000 signatures.
Protester Cigdem Evcil, told the BBC: “I am a mother. How am I supposed to react to this? I can`t believe it, it’s not normal, it doesn’t make sense.
“This morning when I woke up I heard the news on TV and I’ve called my daughter maybe 50 times since.
“If I let this happen to my daughter, if the mothers in this country let this happen, it means we are not mothers.”
Özgür Özel, a senior lawmaker with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) told a press conference: “Sexual abuse is a crime and there is no consent in it. This is what the AK Party fails to understand, Seeking the consent of a child is something that universal law does not provide for.”
Critics of the government of President Erdoğan have claimed that his government is progressively destroying the secular legacy of Kemal Atatürk and making Turkish society vastly more Islamic. That impression was bolstered earlier this year when the parliamentary speaker for the AKP suggested that the Turkish constitution should be distinctly Islamic.