ANKARA (AFP) - Several brutal murders of children have sparked outrage across Turkey, prompting calls to bring back the death penalty and leading the government to stiffen sentences for child killers.
Turkey abolished capital punishment more than a decade ago as part of Ankara's bid to enter the European Union, but calls to bring it back have multiplied after the gruesome killings.
Yusuf Yigitalp, deputy leader of the Islamic Saadet (Felicity) Party, said scrapping the death penalty had sparked a surge in crimes and bringing it back was a "must".
"Today capital punishment is applied in Western countries. The death penalty is in place in the United States and in Europe for certain crimes," he told the conservative Milli Gazete newspaper.
Ankara abolished capital punishment in 2002 as part of reforms to aid its EU bid, enshrining it in its constitution two years later.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that reintroducing capital punishment was impossible if Turkey wanted to join the bloc and the government would instead work to ensure full-life sentences for child murders.
"These incidents are a kind of capital offence," Erdogan said on Friday. "An aggravated life sentence is on our agenda even if we cannot reinstate (the death penalty)."
Aggravated murder in Turkey means full-life imprisonment.
- String of vicious killings -
The calls to reintroduce state executions come after several gruesome child murders.
In one, a six-year-old girl was stabbed, tortured and set on fire, according to preliminary police findings reported in local media.
The suspected murderer, described only as 20-year-old S.A., reportedly confessed to the crime, saying he had lured the girl into his car by saying they were going for a picnic before tying her up and attacking her.
"I closed my eyes and stabbed her. She fell down. I poured gasoline on her and lit it with a match. She started to scream," he was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet daily.
In another shocking killing earlier in the month, a nine-year-old boy was found raped and strangled in the eastern province of Kars.
Surveillance cameras showed the 23-year-old suspect driving the boy to a remote spot where he committed the crime.
Local media also broadcast a picture of the suspect posing next to a red car while the boy took his photo before the murder.
And two weeks ago, a four-year-old boy, identified as C.C., was also reportedly found savagely murdered in a barn in the Aegean province of Aydin.
- 'Children need to scream' -
The killings have also sparked criticism of government efforts to address the issue of child safety after Family Minister Aysenur Islam urged parents to take steps like teaching their children to scream.
"They should also know how to behave when they meet a stranger, the same as how they should know their hands will burn when they touch fire," she said on April 30.
"Our children need to scream in order to make their environment aware when they face a situation which they do not want," said Islam.
But Ezgi Koman, children rights centre coordinator at Gundem Cocuk (Agenda Child) Association, said it was a "superficial proposal" that showed the state has no idea how to tackle the problem of child safety.
"It is apparent that screaming does not work in most cases. Many children are kidnapped with their mouths covered," she told AFP.
"The state's responsibility is to create a secure environment." The association says 633 children were killed in Turkey during 2013, up from 609 the previous year.
Aylin Ilden, a child psychologist, said the public outrage over the murders does not reflect an actual upswing in such crimes.
"These things have always happened, both in Turkey and in the world," she said.
Ilden said most abuse happens in a family environment, where children feel more secure.
"Intra-family child sexual abuse cases are usually whitewashed in Turkey as they are an embarrassment," she said.
"In such cases, children are often defenceless and targeted by those whom they trust the most, usually male members in the family. That's why mothers should also be trained to spot the offence."