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Turkey To Review Controversial Underage Marriage Bill

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim

Following a public outcry, Turkey has withdrawn a proposed law that would have allowed men who sexually abused children to escape punishment if they married the victim.

Hours before a final vote on the proposal on November 22, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the government was pulling back the draft law for further review by a commission on family affairs.

His comments came hours after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said late on November 21 that a broad consensus on the issue was needed.

"Due to a lack of full public consensus, our president's call for a broad consensus, and to allow opposition parties to develop their own proposals, we are taking this proposal which is in parliament to the commission," Yildirim said. "This problem will certainly be solved after being discussed in detail, with all parties' views being taken into account."

The age of consent in Turkey is 18, although civil courts do allow civil marriages for people as young as 16. Many younger people are married in Islamic ceremonies.

The proposed law sparked outrage in Turkey, with thousands taking to the streets in many cities across the country on November 19.

The government had argued that the proposed law would address what it called the "unfair treatment" of families, referring to cases in which men have been jailed for marrying girls under the age of 18 even when both parties and their parents consented.

Opponents said the bill amounted to a pardon for statutory rape if the perpetrator was married to his victim and would strike a blow against efforts to prevent child marriages and sexual assault on children.

Turkey has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe, with an estimated 15 percent of girls married before the age of 18. The real percent is thought to be higher, however, since most child marriages are not registered.

The law would have allowed men who sexually abused girls under 18 without “force, threat, or any restriction on consent,” and then married them, to have their convictions quashed or avoid prosecution.

The change would have applied to cases between 2005 and November 16, 2016.

United Nations agencies, including the children's fund UNICEF, issued a joint statement on November 21 warning that the proposal "would weaken the country's ability to combat sexual abuse and child marriages."

Ankara has stressed it is committed to fighting child marriages but said the one-time measure was needed to help some 3,800 families in which underage marriages had occurred according to customs.

"We cannot ignore this," Yildirim said. "There are 3,800 cases and thousands of children. The children are paying the price of their parents' mistakes."

The latest bill came after Turkey’s constitutional court annulled part of the criminal code in July which classified all sexual acts with children under 15 as sexual abuse, a change that also prompted uproar.

With reporting by AP, dpa, AFP, and Reuters
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