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Bill to Clear Turkish Men of Statutory Rape Charges Sparks Outrage

© AP Photo / Burhan OzbiliciWomen activists, some dressed in wedding gowns representing child brides forced into marriage, hold placards that read "End violence" to protest rape and domestic violence.
Women activists, some dressed in wedding gowns representing child brides forced into marriage, hold placards that read End violence to protest rape and domestic violence. - Sputnik International
A bill proposed by Turkey's ruling party that would clear men of statutory rape charges if they marry their victims is being harshly criticized.

The bill would clear men found guilty of assaulting a minor as long as the act was committed without "force, threat, or any other restriction on consent" – and, of course, if the man then marries the victim. 

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Put forth by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (APK), it has already gotten preliminary backing in Parliament and is expected to be up for a second round of voting after a debate next week. 

Girls Not Brides reports that Turkey has a serious child marriage problem. An estimated 15% of Turkish girls are married by the time they are 18, a statistic that may not even truly represent the scale of the issue since most child marriages are unregistered and take place as unofficial religious marriages, the organization cautions. 

The bill has sparked fury among celebrities, opposition parties and even the government’s own Women’s and Democracy Association, of which Erdogan's daughter is a deputy chairman. 

"How can the 'own will' of such a young girl be identified?" the association asked, the Guardian reports. "We would like to draw attention to issues that might arise in case of it coming into force."

"Sexual abuse is a crime and there is no consent in it. This is what the AKP fails to understand," Ozgur Ozel, a member of Parliament for the opposition Republican People's Party, said, AFP reports. "Seeking the consent of a child is something that universal law does not provide for."

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Dozens protested the proposed bill in the streets of central Istanbul, and a petition on demanding lawmakers block the bill has gotten 600,000 signatures.  

"Until she is 18, a child remains a child, that is why this has to be condemned," protester Fadik Temizyurek told AFP.

The government insists the bill aims to deal with the social reality of child marriage, not protect criminals. 

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the pardon would be applied once only, and only for offences committed before November 11, 2016.

"The issue is simple," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said November 18, Al Jazeera reports. "There are people who marry early. They do not know the law, so they have children. The father goes to jail and the children are left alone with their mother."

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There are 3,000 families in this situation, he said. 

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said child marriage is simply "a reality" and that the men the bill would cover are not sexual predators. Rather, the bill is intended to help families, he said.

"When a child is then born from this non-official union, the doctor warns the prosecutor and the man is sent to prison, putting the child and mother into financial difficulties," Bozdag said, the BBC reported.

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