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Child bride from religious cult breaks silence, sparking outrage in Turkey

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Criminal complaints filed by the daughter of a man affiliated with a Sunni sect based in İstanbul has sparked outrage in Turkey due to her allegation that she was married off at the age of six and has been subjected to sexual abuse ever since.

Turkey learned about the ordeal of the young woman, identified only by the initials H.K.G, on Dec. 3 in an article written by Birgün daily columnist Timur Soykan, who said H.K.G., the daughter of Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel, founder of the İsmailağa community-linked Hiranur Foundation, had been sexually abused by a then-29-year-old neighbor and member of the community, Kadir İstekli, when she was six.

According to Soykan, H.K.G. was engaged to İstekli at the age of 13, married him in a religious ceremony when she was 14 and became a mother at 17. Their official marriage reportedly took place when H.K.G. turned 18.

After getting a divorce in 2021, H.K.G. filed a criminal complaint against İstekli on charges of sexual abuse in addition to her parents Fatma and Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel, whom she accused of condoning the abuse.

When her parents and İstekli denied the allegations, H.K.G presented to the court her engagement photos taken at the age of 6 and 13 with the three of them as evidence, Soykan said, publishing the photos in a follow-up article on Dec. 7.

The indictment, which was completed by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Oct. 30, demanded at least 27 years in prison for each of the defendants, accusing the three of them of “child molestation” and also accusing İstekli of “sexual assault,” according to Soykan, who added that none of the defendants was arrested pending trial despite the serious charges against them.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Family and Social Services announced in a written statement on Thursday that they had been involved in the case, adding that they would closely monitor the process and continue to provide legal support to the wronged party, Turkish media reports said.

Following the developments, ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik said in a tweet that they condemned the abuse of children and would stand by the victim and against the perpetrator. He added that they would follow the legal process as closely as possible and were sure that “the best interests of our children” would be observed in the ongoing process.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), also condemned the claimed abuse, saying that those who sexually abuse children or condone the act or establish a system that allows it were “dishonorable” and would be treated that way.

“You will get what you deserve!” Kılıçdaroğlu added.

“What a 6-year-old child had undergone under the cover of a religious community is a great perversion … and outright rape!” leader of the nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party, Meral Akşener, said in a tweet, vowing to not allow the incident to be covered up.

Although the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years in Turkey, the law allows parties to marry at 17 with parental consent, or, in exceptional circumstances, a court may grant approval for marriage at age 16.

According to the campaign group Girls Not Brides, the country has “one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe,” with an estimated 15 percent of girls married before the age of 18 and 2 percent married before the age of 15.

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