A new law is set to be put to the Turkish parliament that would allow men accused of abusing girls under 18 to avoid punishment if they marry their victims.
The so-called ‘marry your rapist’ bill is set to be introduced to parliament for MPs in Turkey to debate at the end of the month.
Critics say the proposed law legitimises statutory rape, child marriage and allows child abuse and sexual exploitation to become rife.
The United Nations has warned the law legitimises child rape and would lead to abusers acting with impunity, leaving victims even more vulnerable.
Opposition MPs also condemned the bill, warning such a law would lead to girls being forced into marriages against their will as well as encouraging abuse.
The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is urging the government to drop the proposal.
A similar bill was put before the Turkish parliament in 2016 but it was withdrawn after it sparked worldwide outrage.
The controversial proposal would have applied to statutory rape cases without use of ‘force, threat, or any other restriction on consent’ involving girls aged 15 or younger.
But Turkey’s ruling AK Party is shelved the proposed bill on underage marriage for further consultations.
In 2017 Turkey passed a new law to allow Islamic muftis to conduct civil marriage ceremonies.
The move was criticised as undermining Turkey’s secular constitution and opening the door for and increase in child brides.
Women’s rights activists and and politicians have fought against similar legal loopholes to be removed in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine in recent years.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been accused of sexism in the past after saying women are not equal to men and claiming feminists in Turkey reject the idea of motherhood.
Ahead of international women’s day in 2018, Turkey’s president blamed the media for a rise in cases of domestic violence against women and child abuse, telling journalists to not report such incidents.
At Turkey’s Women and Democracy Association in Istanbul in 2016, Erdogan urged women to have at least three children, saying a woman who rejects motherhood is ‘deficient’ and ‘incomplete’.
In 2014 Erdogan said biological differences meant women and men could not serve the same functions, adding that manual work was unsuitable for the ‘delicate nature’ of women.
The legal age of consent in Turkey is 18, but a government report published in 2018 on child marriage estimates a total of 482,908 underage girls were married over the last ten years.