The controversial proposal passed in Turkish Parliament.
Turkey’s governing party has sparked an outcry after putting forward a bill that would pardon up to 3,000 child rapists if the perpetrator married his victim.
Critics have warned that such a law would encourage sexual abuse, while the government has defended the bill as an attempt to deal with legal complications arising from child marriage.
The controversial proposal would apply to statutory rape cases without use of “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” involving girls aged 15 or younger.
Men convicted in such cases between 2005, when a similar law was abolished, and Nov 16 this year would be eligible to have their sentences “deferred” if they married their victims.
In case of a divorce that is the “fault of the perpetrator”, the sentence would once again come into effect.
The bill — which was brought forward by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s conservative AKP — was approved on Thursday night, but did not reach the number of votes required for it to be passed into law. Parliament will vote on the proposal again on Tuesday.
Opposition MPs condemned the bill, warning that such a law would lead to girls being forced into marriage against their will and encourage abusers. On Twitter, users protested the bill with the hashtag #TecavuzMesrulastirilamaz — “rape cannot be legitimised”.
“If a 50- or 60-year-old is told to marry an 11-year-old girl after raping her, and then marries her years later, she will suffer the consequences,” said Omer Suha Aldan, an MP for the main opposition party CHP.
“If you give him a pass by marriage, the young girl will live in prison her whole life.”
The minister of justice, Bekir Bozdag, went on national television on Friday to defend the proposal, arguing that the bill was a response to the “unfortunate reality” of teenage marriage in Turkey’s conservative society.
He said that the proposed law would pardon men who had consensual sex with an underage girl they wanted to marry, adding that around 3,000 people could be released.
“When a child is then born from this non-official union, the doctor warns the prosecutor and the man is sent to prison, putting the child and mother into financial difficulties,” he said. “Those who say ‘rapists will benefit from this’ are distorting the situation.”
Earlier this year, women’s rights groups reacted with fury when Turkey abolished a criminal code article classifying all sexual acts with children aged 15 or younger as “sexual abuse” in response to a local court’s petition to lower the age of consent.
Unless replaced with another law, this annulment will come into force in January next year.