Women /

Turkey is set to make another attempt to introduce a bill aimed at giving rapists amnesty by allowing them to marry their victims. The legislation which was first brought to parliament for debate on January 16 would pave the way for amnesty to men convicted of child sex offenses so long as they reach a marriage agreement with their victims and their age difference is less than 10 years.

Critics Slam Bill As Legalizing Child Abuse

Critics of the bill have voiced their concerns on grounds that it could legalize statutory rape and child abuse. The UN has also raised concerns that the law would essentially legalize child rape and leave the victims at the mercy of their tormentors.

Leading campaigns against the bill in the Turkish parliament is the opposition party the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) which has stated that standing against the legislation is “a duty of humanity.” One of the party officials Mrs. Figen Demirci warned: “This amnesty law could actually lead to the reduction of the legal age of sexual intercourse to under 12 years with the child then forced into marriage.” The party’s spokeswoman complained that the government appeared to be more interested in protecting the rights of child abusers than that of other vulnerable people.

History Of Turkey’s Rape Marriage Law

Turkey’s rape marriage law was in existence until 2005 when the country repealed it as part of the negotiations to join the European Union. However, in 2016 the Erdogan government made an attempt to reintroduce the law by allowing 3,000 men accused of statutory rape to marry their victims. However, because of the public outcry the issued generated both locally and internationally the proposal was dropped.

The matter resurfaced last year with Turkey’s ruling party AKP insisting that the aim of the legislation was not to excuse rape but to rehabilitate those who may not have realized that their sexual relations with young girls was unlawful, and also to protect the young victims from being ostracized. This came against a backdrop of a 2018 report that showed that a total of 482,908 girls under 18 were married since 2008 in Turkey, despite the legal marriage age being 18.

The Colonial Roots Of Rape-Marriage Laws

Rape-marriages are common in many Arab and Asian countries. According to Humans Rights Watch, many originated from colonial laws in the Middle East and North Africa. HR Watch Senior Researcher, Rothna Begum wrote, “They largely stem from or were inspired by the French Napoleonic code of 1810 which allowed a man who kidnapped a girl to escape persecution if he married her.”

These laws were further supported by patriarchal attitudes that linked a family’s honor to a woman’s chastity and virginity. In many countries rape victims were treated like outcasts and marrying them was resented and seen as shameful. However, because of international pressure and campaigns by women, some countries have began to repeal the draconian laws.

Case Studies: Morocco, Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan And Lebanon

In 2014 Morocco repealed a provision that allowed convicted rapists to evade punishment by marrying their victims. However the repeal was only taken after a 16-year-old girl called Amina Filali committed suicide by swallowing rat poison after she was forced to marry a man she had accused of raping her.

In 2016 Bahrain Parliament voted to repeal a similar law but the cabinet rejected the proposal on grounds that the marriage loophole should be revoked only in cases of gang rape.

In 2017 Tunisia , Jordan and Lebanon also furthered women’s rights protections by repealing legislation that allowed rapists to avoid criminal prosecution if they married their victims. However, Lebanon was criticized for retaining a loophole that allowed sex with children between the ages of 15 to 17 and seducing a minor with the promise of sex. According to women’s rights campaigners, this article also needs to be repealed.

Nevertheless, UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Raad Al Hussein welcomed these reforms stating there’s no place for hideous laws that seek to “punish a rape victim by making her marry the perpetrator of a horrible crime against her.”

‘Work Towards The Swift Repeal Of Other Legislation That Condones Sexual Violence Against Women And Girls’

She urged the governments of Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia and other Arab countries “to build on this positive momentum and to work towards the swift repeal of other legislation that condones sexual violence against women and girls and perpetuates discrimination against them in clear violation of international law.”

For a country like Turkey which is divided between religiously-based laws and secularism, the proposed bill is likely to generate a heated debate in the political and religious spheres. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has never hidden his perception of the role of a woman in the context of Islam. In 2014 he was accused of sexism when he said that “you cannot put women and men on an equal footing.”

But as Fatma the spokeswoman for the PDP said in response to the marry your rapist bill that the attempt to pass it will increase opposition to abuse of women and girls and awareness of their situation: “The struggles of women is spreading in waves, creating a butterfly effect. We will never allow the masculine mentality which wants to dominate the world to win.”