Turkey faces criticism for planned abolition of punishment for the sexual abuse of children
On the basis of a request from a lower court, Turkey's Constitutional Court decided last month to abolish a provision regulating the punishment of sexual crimes committed against children younger than 15. The district court had complained that current legislation does not distinguish between age groups and treats children between age 4 and age 14 equivalently.
The district court argued that children between the ages of 12 and 15 are capable of understanding the meaning of a sexual act. The Constitutional Court agreed and decided to abolish the provision.
The decision is to take effect as of 13 January 2017. People in academic and human rights circles are waging a counter-campaign emphasizing that all persons younger than 18 are considered children in accordance with the international conventions that also apply to Turkey.
Activists will probably strive to have the Constitutional Court decision overturned. Turkey's Federation of Women's Associations, led by Canan Güllü, announced it is now considering filing a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights over the issue.
"This decision will lead to unwanted marriages. Boys and men will be able to abduct girls at an early age, rape them, marry them, and prevent them from attending school," Güllü said.
Turkey officially summoned the Swedish Ambassador and the Austrian chargé d'affaires over criticism in those countries of the planned change to the law. According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüta Çavuşoglua, such criticism reflects a "racist, anti-Islamic, anti-Turkish trend in Europe".
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström criticized the Turkish Constitutional Court decision last Sunday on Twitter. She believes the decision should be overturned.
"Children need more protection from sexual abuse and violence, not less," Wallström tweeted. The Austrian chargé d'affaires was summoned after headlines ran on a display screen at the airport in Vienna reporting that Ankara was making it possible for children under 15 to have sex.
Those headlines were removed from circulation after the Turkish ambassador intervened. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued a declaration stating that the country is upholding its international legal obligations concerning child protection and that the Turkish Justice Ministry is working on new legislation to guarantee there will be no dispute over whether child abuse will be a punishable offence.
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