Thousands of people, including women and children, marched in Istanbul protesting against a controversial bill that would overturn men’s convictions for child sex assault if they married their victim.
Around 3,000 protesters shouted slogans and demanded that the bill to be withdrawn amid claps and whistles as they marched to Kadikoy square in the city’s Asian side on Saturday.
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They waved banners emblazoned with slogans such as “#Rape cannot be legitimised” and “AKP, take your hands off my body”, a reference to the ruling Justice and Development Party that introduced the bill.
Protesters shouted slogans such as “We will not shut up, we will not obey, withdraw the bill immediately”.
Thursday’s motion stated that, in the case of sexual abuse of a minor committed before November 11, if the act was committed without “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” and if the aggressor “marries the victim”, the sentence will be postponed.
The measures were approved in an initial parliamentary reading and will be voted on again in a second debate in the coming days.
The government insisted that the legislation was aimed at dealing with the widespread custom of child marriages and the criticism was a crude distortion of its aim.
— Elif Shafak (@Elif_Safak) November 19, 2016
The opposition, celebrities and rights groups have expressed alarm over the move. Critics say the government could encourage the rape of minors.
On Saturday, the UN children’s fund also said that it was “deeply concerned” over the draft bill.
The aim of the proposal, according to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, was to remedy the situation of men who are in jail and married to women under the age of 18 in a religious ceremony and with the consent of their family.
He rejected suggestions that the plan amounted to an “amnesty for rape”.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag echoed Yildirim’s opinion, saying: “The bill will certainly not bring amnesty to rapists.
“This is a step taken to solve a problem in some parts of our country,” he told a NATO meeting in Istanbul.
After the controversy, Yildirim ordered his AK Party on Friday to hold talks with the opposition in parliament on the planned measures.
The pro-government Women’s and Democracy Association, whose deputy chairman is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s younger daughter Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar, said one of the biggest problems of the bill would be proving on a legal basis what constituted force or consent.
“How can the ‘own will’ of such a young girl be identified?” it asked. “We would like to draw attention to issues that might arise in case of it coming into force.”