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Turkey's AK Party withdraws controversial bill on underage marriage

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters, The Guardian
Turkey's AK Party withdraws controversial bill on underage marriage

Turkish Prime Minister Binaldi Yildirim says the governing AK Party is withdrawing a proposed bill on underage marriage for further consultations.

Opposition and rights groups have said it could allow men accused of sexually abusing girls to avoid punishment.

The proposal – what it said

The proposal, a copy of which was seen by the Reuters news agency, would have allowed sentencing in cases of sexual abuse committed “without force, threat or trick” before November the 16th, 2016, to be indefinitely postponed if the perpetrator marries the victim.

The aim was to remedy the situation of men who are in jail and are married to women under 18 in a religious ceremony and with the consent of their family, the prime minister said.

It is estimated there are several thousand.

What happens now?

Yildirim says the AKP will seek the opinion of the opposition and civil society groups in order to reformulate the proposal.

It is in line with a call from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a wider consensus.

The plan will be withdrawn from parliament’s general assembly and taken back to a commission.

The argument

UN agencies, including UNICEF, say the bill – which has sparked an outcry in Turkey – would weaken the country’s ability to “combat sexual abuse and child marriages”.

Critics also say it pardons and legitimises statutory rape.

The proposed legislation would apply retroactively and only once on offences committed before November, 2016.

The Turkish government insists it is committed to fighting child marriages but says the one-time measure is needed to help couples who were married according to their customs.

The age of consent in Turkey is 18.

However, courts can permit civil marriages for people as young as 16.

Many younger people are married in Islamic ceremonies.