Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said on Friday that a bill brought to Parliament late Thursday night by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputies paving the way for freeing more than 4,000 inmates convicted of rape would not release rapists but would free men convicted of child marriage.
“Unfortunately, there are cases of marriage at very early ages in our country, even if we don’t want this to happen. Families marry their children off [at early ages]. But [their marriages] are not registered since they are not of age to be legally married. Once they have children, doctors inform prosecutors, and the husband the goes to jail while the wife stays alone with her child,” Bozdağ said.
Stating that several requests have been submitted to the authorities by parents in order to reunite their children, Bozdağ said: “There are people facing prison terms of up to 16 years [for early marriage]. They are not rapists. They are not convicts who committed sexual abuse. These are [marriages] performed with the consent of the parents and [the child bride].”
Bozdağ further said that the present law punishes a man who marries a girl under 18 years of age with prison terms of up to 16 years. “This is legislation designed to solve the problems of those families, with the husband in jail and the wife alone with the children because of the mistakes committed by their parents,” Bozdağ said.
The bill was brought to the floor of the General Assembly and was approved by AKP deputies despite the nay votes of both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said in Ankara on Friday that the aim of the proposal was to remedy the situation of men who are in jail and who were married to girls under the age of 18 in a religious ceremony and with the consent of the family. He rejected suggestions that the plan amounted to an “amnesty for rape.”
Civil marriage under the age of 18 is illegal in Turkey, but marriage between men and underage girls in religious ceremonies is not uncommon, particularly in rural parts of the Sunni Muslim nation of 78 million people.
Underlining that there are “broken” families because of the law, Yıldırım said: “There are people who got married while under age. They don’t know the law, then they have children. The father goes to jail, and the children are alone with their mother.”
Youngsters in their early teens are known to have been married in religious ceremonies in Turkey. Some argue that these marriages are not abusive, with the couple simply being unaware of the civil law.
Opponents of the proposal including lawmakers, rights groups, women’s associations and NGOs swiftly condemned the proposed legislation, saying it was a normalization of underage marriage.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentary group leader Özgür Özel criticized the bill, saying: “Sexual abuse is a crime, and there is no consent involved. This is what the AKP fails to understand.” He also added, “Seeking the consent of a child is something that universal law does not permit.”