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Turkey Withdraws Controversial Bill That Eased Penalties On Child Sexual Abuse

Turkish women protest against a government proposal on Tuesday in Istanbul, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. The sign in the middle reads: "We will not allow legalized rape with marriage!"

Turkey has tabled a controversial measure by the ruling party that would have allowed some sexual abusers of children to escape prison time if they married their victims. The bill was sharply criticized by opposition parties and human rights groups.

"The government was already on the defensive after demonstrations erupted to oppose the legal change," as NPR's Peter Kenyon tells our Newscast unit from Istanbul. "Critics said it amounted to a pardon for abusers, and more pain for their victims."

U.N. agencies including UNICEF spoke out against the bill, saying "it would create a perception of impunity in favour of perpetrators of such child rights violations" and "would increase the risk for further victimization of the child if she marries the perpetrator of the sexual abuse."

The government had argued that the bill was designed to "exonerate men imprisoned for marrying an underage girl apparently with her or her family's consent," as the BBC reports. It would have been applicable to cases dating from 2005 to Nov. 16 and when there was no physical force involved, according to The Associated Press.

The measure was set for a parliamentary vote today. Peter explains what happened:

"The ruling party declared that the bill would be revised and re-debated. But the opposition refused to cooperate on the re-write, suggesting that the ruling party should fix its own mess. Turkey's prime minister then announced the bill would be withdrawn and consultations with NGOs and academics would take place on how to re-write it."

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag then told parliamentarians that the matter was "closed," according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. "If the political parties achieve a broad consensus about this issue in the future, then it can come to our agenda again, but the issue is now closed," he said.

Underage marriage is a major issue in Turkey. "The legal age for marriage in Turkey is 17 but ... a judge can — in extraordinary circumstances — allow a 16-year-old to marry," according to Anadolu. But the practice remains widespread: Some 438,000 underage girls have gotten married there in the last 10 years, according to the BBC.

Protesters rallied outside the parliament building on Tuesday, as the AP reports. "I am embarrassed that this issue is even being discussed," demonstrator Perihan Koksal told the wire service. "A child can't be a woman, can't be a mother."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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