A high criminal court in İstanbul has handed down lengthy jail sentences ranging between 16 and 30 years to the ex-husband and parents of a young woman who filed criminal complaints against them alleging that she was sexually abused starting at the age of six, local media reported on Monday.
Turkey learned about the ordeal of the woman, identified only by the initials H.K.G., on Dec. 3, 2022, in an article written by Birgün daily columnist Timur Soykan, who said H.K.G., the daughter of a man affiliated with the İsmailağa community – a Sunni sect based in İstanbul – 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.
Turkish media on Monday reported that the İstanbul Anatolia 2nd High Criminal Court gave prison sentences of 30 years to İstekli, 20 years to H.K.G.’s father Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel and 16 years, eight months to her mother Fatıma Gümüşel.
The indictment drafted by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office sought 22 years, six months in prison for each of H.K.G.’s parents on charges of “successive child molestation,” and almost 68 years in prison for İstekli on the same charge in addition to the charge of “sexual assault.”
H.K.G.’s father’s attorney had resigned during a hearing held on July 17. On Oct. 9, Gümüşel’s new attorney requested an extension of time to prepare a defense, leading to the postponement of the trial to Oct. 23.
Meanwhile, the Artı Gerçek news website reported on Monday that women’s organizations assessed the decision favorably in a joint statement, also acknowledging the delay.
Speaking on behalf of women, Devrim Avcı from the leftist Labor Party (EMEP) stated that they would continue their struggle for H.K.G’s story to be the last of such incidents.
“Despite all its shortcomings and the delay, this decision shattered a certain perception. Whether you are a sheikh, a Sufi master, a father or a mother, no one has a say over the bodies of small children,” Fidan Ataselim from the We Will Stop Femicides Platform (KCDP) said.
“We will continue to fight against exploiters until a secular social order is rebuilt,” Filiz Yaprak, speaking on behalf of women from the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP), said.
H.K.G.’s allegations sparked outrage in Turkey, which 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, according to the campaign group Girls Not Brides.
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.