Women were up and protesting in 48 different locations across Turkey on January 6, Monday. Despite the seasonal weather conditions including showers and heavy snow, women gathered to draw attention to a real problem. This problem concerns the preparations to make amendments in the penal code, which, in the eyes of the protesting women, corresponds to an attack to child rights.  

The address of the problem women are trying to draw attention to is the second judicial reform package that is about to be debated in the parliament any time starting early January. The protest in Ankara took place only a couple of hundreds of meters away from the parliament building, the details of which were in the media. 

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) aims to enact the bill the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has been yearning for years through preparing various drafts. It started as an amnesty bill and transformed into reduction in penalty. The government supporter minor partner MHP wants a wide range of amnesty from organized crime leaders to drug dealers on the street. AKP on the other hand, is adding child sexual abuse crime to the l AKP’s aim is to introduce amnesty for child sexual abuse crime under the name of sentence reduction for the crime of rape. This is based on arbitrary criteria – without any objective grounds – such as “if there is a current marriage, if there is no complaint, if the age difference is no more than 15 years.” 

Crimes against the state are exempt from this amnesty package. In other words, opponents, journalists, rights advocates are out of coverage. But there is amnesty for the child sexual abuse crime. And, somehow, it is trying to be called “judicial reform” without anybody’s face reddening. 

Introducing unlawful, arbitrary reduction to the penalty of the crime of child sexual abuse brings impunity. It normalizes a crime. It legitimizes it. Early and forced marriages would become widespread. It would make raped children obliged to get married to those who have raped them. 

Women are saying that under no circumstances should the age of marriage be under 18. 

Here are some excerpts from the press release signed by 145 organizations:  

“This is our view to the attempt to introduce amnesty under the name of sentence reduction for perpetrators who have committed the crime of child sexual abuse.”

“For a certain time, media have been reporting that the government is preparing an amnesty bill for men marrying minor girls, pardoning them for the crime of abuse. According to latest reports, we learn that the AKP has accepted the age difference of 15 years as a criterion and that this amnesty that legitimizes child abuse will be debated after the budget discussions are over, sometime in January 2020. 

“Since 2016, the AKP government has been systematically trying to enact certain amendments and practices, including this amnesty that would legitimize child abuse, that would open way to forced and early marriages. Within this context, against the objection of women organizations, in 2016, the AKP introduced the age 12 threshold in the law for child sexual abuse the Turkish Penal Code with an omnibus bill. Crimes against minors under 12 years old were given heavy penalties, however, it has not been shared with the public what the threshold of 12 years of age is based on. 

“The new amnesty wishing to be introduced now includes perpetrators convicted of sexual abuse crime against girls below 15 years of age. In other words, in the case of a 27-year-old male marrying a 12-year-old girl, impunity is trying to be introduced. We strongly argue that this impunity will encourage child abuse crime perpetrators and also abettors.  

“As a matter of fact, Elbistan Heavy Criminal Court in southeast Turkey has acquitted the person who has abused his 12-year- old cousin, nine years his junior, under the image of marriage, and who defended himself saying he did not know the age of the girl when the incident happened. The Court of Appeals has approved this decision by majority. This verdict was reached with reasons such as, ‘traditional values, the fact that the togetherness was continuing without any problems, that the victim has not filed any complaints against, that in case of a sentence the family structure would be damaged.’ This demonstrates that the sexual abuse of children under 15 years of age is trying to be legitimized. Also, such an amnesty shows that the article which was removed from the law in 2005, is trying to be returned, the one which enables impunity in the case of ‘marrying the rapist.’ 

“Acquitting the abuser based on an arrangement to fulfill the condition of marrying the victim means the children are bound to lives full of violence. The statement of AKP saying ‘We will do this amnesty only for once,’ demonstrates the continuation of the mentality of ‘Once does not count.’ 

“As the justification of this arrangement, it is claimed that the victims are now married, and jailing the men who have committed this crime in the past would leave the victim and her children uncared for and open to poverty. 

“The state responsible for protecting children using such a justification to legitimize the sexual abuse of children – without even sharing any reliable data – is totally against logic and conscience. 

“We want to call on the government again: If the aim is to protect underage girls and prevent them from becoming victims, listen to women’s organizations which have been declaring, for years, what needs to be done. It is in your capacity to prioritize the prevention of the abuse of children. Take measures to protect the children instead of pardoning the abusers. 

“Those religious officials who officiate religious (imam) marriages for children who are not eligible for marriage, those families who marry their underage children and those people and officials who turn a blind eye to this and who do not comply with their informing duties should be penalized. 

“It should be expressed clearly that there is no question of consent for sexual behavior for children under the age of 15 under the Turkish Penal Code. It should be specified that forced and underage marriages are crimes. The age of marriage should under all conditions be raised to 18 years of age. All of the above should be included in the law without leaving any loopholes and leaving space for interpretation. 

“We call on all deputies to do whatever they can to prevent this bill from enacting, and all women as well as all media institutions and the public to follow up on the issue.”