Turkey proposed a law that would pardon men of rape charges if they marry the under-age girls they raped.
The bill would allow men, who have sex with girls under 18 (legal age of consent in Turkey) without “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent,” to avoid prison if they marry their victims, according to Slate. The bill was brought to the forefront by President Erdogan’s Ruling Party (AKP) as a way to “protect” families and deal with the problem of child marriage.
Marriages involving under-age girls is a common, especially in rural Turkey. According to the UNICEF, 15% of women are married by 18. This proposed bill, instead of addressing child marriage, would provide a legal loophole to legitimize it by allowing older men who get underage girls pregnant to avoid prison by marrying them.
Proponents of the bill claim it’s not designed to pardon rapists but a way to address a common situation in Turkey. Often, an older man gets an under-age girl pregnant and goes to prison for his crime. The girl is shamed and rejected by her community and forced to financially support herself and her child. “We determined that there are 3,000 families living like this,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said to Al Jazeera.
The bill claims that if the girl resists sex, the law would not apply— but how does one prove that? It would always be a he said/she said case—and most likely in favor of the older man, especially if the girl is under pressure from her family to avoid shame. And what about the cases where the girl is having sex without “force or threat”— can she still consent?
Statutory rape laws exist under the understanding that children cannot cognitively consent to sex. While the legal age is 18 in Turkey, the proposed bill rest on the idea that under-age girls have the ability to consent and act as adults in their marriages.
This bill would not protect “families”. It would pardon rapists and may embolden many older men to prey on young girls.
It is also important to note that this is an issue in the US. Many states allow minors to marry, sometimes much older partners, with parental consent or judicial permission. And unfortunately, it’s not uncommon.
The proposed law in Turkey, which garnered international outrage, is a way to exasperate the issue the MP is trying to fix. Instead of addressing why so many men are getting under-age girls pregnant and why the girls are then shamed for it, the MP just proposed a bill that will leave young women powerless. The bill also grossly prioritizes male desires and legitimizes rape and sexual assault.
The United Nations said in a statement that the bill “would create a perception of impunity in favor of perpetrators of such child rights violations. In addition, it would increase the risk for further victimization of the child if she marries the perpetrator of the sexual abuse.”
The bill sparked protests throughout the country, drawing crowds of thousands. In light of outrage and international criticism, the MP withdrew the bill to be reworked. Let’s hope the parliament crafts a more feminist approach to dealing with teenage pregnancies and child marriages, and creates laws that prevent sexual assault not encourage it.
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