Turkish bill clears men of statutory rape if they marry

A bill which would allow men accused of raping underage girls to be cleared if they marry the girl has been preliminarily backed by Turkish MPs.

The bill would pardon men only if they had sex without "force or threat" and if they married the victim.

Critics say it legitimises rape and child marriage, and lets off men who are aware of their crime.

Violence against women in Turkey has increased in the past decade - 40% of women report sexual or physical abuse.

Statistics also show the murder rate of women increased by 1,400% between 2003 and 2010.

The bill was initially approved on Thursday evening after being brought to parliament by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). On Tuesday, MPs will debate the bill a second time before casting their final vote.

Analysis - BBC's Mark Lowen, Turkey

It is a highly contentious bill that has divided Turkey along its traditional secular versus conservative fault line.

The aim, says the government, is not to excuse rape but to rehabilitate those who may not have realised their sexual relations were unlawful - or to prevent girls who have sex under the age of 18 from feeling ostracised by their community.

There is opposition to the bill on the streets of Istanbul. Many say it will encourage men to rape.

But the government will get support among its pious voter base in poorer areas where girls are married off young and the sexual abuse rate is higher. Supporters say Mr Erdogan has liberated religious women by repealing a ban on headscarves in public places.

The vote on Tuesday could spark mass protests.

If it passes it will likely quash the convictions of some 3,000 men accused of assaulting an under-18-year-old.

But critics say as well as overlooking statutory rape (underage sex) it would legitimise child marriage.

"Sexual abuse is a crime and there is no consent in it. This is what the AKP fails to understand," said Ozgur Ozel, MP for the opposition Republican People's Party, according to AFP news agency. "Seeking the consent of a child is something that universal law does not provide for."

But Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said it could help couples who have engaged in consensual sex and want to marry.

"When a child is then born from this non-official union, the doctor warns the prosecutor and the man is sent to prison, putting the child and mother into financial difficulties," he said.

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