Turkey’s governing AK Party is withdrawing a controversial bill on underage marriage.
Any forms of sexual violence against children are crimes which should be punished as such.
Critics say it would pardon men convicted of sex with underage girls if the abuser marries the victim.
Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim said the proposed law would be reformulated by a parliamentary committee in order to obtain a broad consensus across society.
“It will be evaluated again in the committee by taking opinions of all the parties, and this problem will definitely be resolved,” said Binali.
The bill sparked strong protests from rights groups.
Demonstrators say it is intolerable for sentencing to be indefinitely postponed in cases of sexual abuse committed “without force, threat or trick” if the perpetrator marries the victim.
“We are not going to let the parliament pass this bill,” said one protester. “We are going to protect our children’s future. We are not going to leave them in the dark. We’re saying it again: The AK Party MPs who brought this proposal to parliament and the rapists who are being protected by them are going to explain themselves to the victims.”
Yildirim said the aim 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.”
“There are those who got married underage. They don’t know the law, then they have kids, the father goes to jail and the children are alone with their mother,” Yildirim said, adding that he had identified 3,000 families in this situation.
Fidan Ataselim from the campaign group “Let’s Stop Women’s Murders” said it would be difficult to establish whether an underage victim gave consent, and the bill would pave the way for forced child marriages.
“It means the perpetrators and the rapists will threaten families, offer money and force them to marry off their children,” said Ataselim.
Several UN agencies criticised the legislation, which they said was akin to an amnesty for child abusers and could expose victims to further suffering at the hands of their abusers.
“Any forms of sexual violence against children are crimes which should be punished as such,” the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, UN Women and the UN Development Programme in Turkey said in a joint statement on Monday (November 21).
“We call on all Members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly to do their utmost in ensuring that all girls and boys in Turkey are better protected from all forms of sexual abuse.”
In rural areas of Turkey underage religious wedding ceremonies are not uncommon.
Campaign group Girls Not Brides says Turkey has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe, about 15 percent of girls married before the age of 18.