Thousands in Istanbul protest over controversial Bill on child rapists

Turkish female protestors shout slogans against the government near Taksim Square, in Istanbul, during a demonstration against a bill which would pardon some people imprisoned for statutory rape on Nov 18, 2016.
Turkish female protestors shout slogans against the government near Taksim Square, in Istanbul, during a demonstration against a bill which would pardon some people imprisoned for statutory rape on Nov 18, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

ISTANBUL • Thousands of people, including women and children, have staged a march in Istanbul against a controversial Bill that would overturn men's convictions for child sexual assault if they married their victim.

"We will not shut up. We will not obey. Withdraw the Bill immediately!" some 3,000 protesters shouted as they marched to Kadikoy square on the city's Asian side.

Others waved banners emblazoned with slogans such as "#Rape cannot be legitimised" and "AKP, take your hands off my body", a reference to the ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which introduced the Bill.

The opposition, celebrities and even an association whose deputy chairman is Mr Erdogan's daughter have expressed alarm over the move. But the government insists the legislation was aimed at dealing with the widespread custom of child marriages and the criticism was a crude distortion of its aim.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag on Saturday moved to reassure opponents that the Bill would not pardon rapists. "The Bill will certainly not bring amnesty to rapists... This is a step taken to solve a problem in some parts of our country," he told a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in Istanbul.

After the controversy, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim late on Friday ordered his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to hold talks with the opposition in Parliament on the planned measures. The measures were approved in an initial parliamentary reading on Thursday and will be voted on again in a second debate in the coming days.

Critics have said the government is encouraging the rape of minors. "We will not allow the AKP to acquit and set free rapists in this country," one of the women protesters, who gave her name as Ruya, said.

If passed, the law would allow the release from prison of men guilty of assaulting a minor if the act was committed without "force, threat, or any other restriction on consent" and if the aggressor "marries the victim".

The legal age of consent in Turkey is 18, but child marriage is widespread, especially in the south-east.

The United Nations Children's Fund said on Saturday that it was "deeply concerned" over the Bill.

The latest controversy comes after Turkey's constitutional court in July annulled a criminal code provision punishing as "sexual abuse" all sexual acts involving children under the age of 15.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Thousands in Istanbul protest over controversial Bill on child rapists'. Print Edition | Subscribe