Thousands have protested in Istanbul in Turkey against a bill that would let off men who assaulted underage girls if they marry their victims.

The government insists the legislation is aimed at dealing with the widespread custom of child marriage, but critics say that it will legitimise child rape.

Protesters clapped and chanted: “We will not shut up. We will not obey. Withdraw the bill immediately!”

There were demonstrations in other cities including Izmir and Trabzon.

The law would allow the release of men who assaulted a minor without “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” and married the victim.

About 3,000 protesters gathered in Istanbul’s Kadikoy square, according to reports.

Some waved banners with slogans such as “Rape cannot be legitimised” and “AKP, take your hands off my body” – referring to the AKP party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which introduced the bill.

“A rape can’t be justified,” protester Fadik Temizyurek told the BBC.

She said: “What does it mean to ask a child if they’re OK? Until they’re 18, a child remains a child, that is why this has to be condemned. We are here so that this law can’t pass.”

Kadir Demir, a father, said: “I am here because I listen to my consciousness. Because I have children, because of my children. Because I desire to live in a country where we can still live.”

Another protester, Cigdem Evcil, said: “I am a mother. How am I supposed to react to this? I can`t believe it, it’s not normal, it doesn’t make sense.

“This morning when I woke up I heard the news on TV and I’ve called my daughter maybe 50 times since.

“If I let this happen to my daughter, if the mothers in this country let this happen, it means we are not mothers.”

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told a Nato meeting on Friday in the city that the bill would not pardon rapists.

He said: “The bill will certainly not bring amnesty to rapists…. This is a step taken to solve a problem in some parts of our country.”

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has reportedly ordered his AKP colleagues to hold talks with the opposition on the bill.

The bill was approved in an initial parliamentary reading on Thursday and will be voted on again in a second debate on Tuesday.

The UN children’s fund said it was “deeply concerned” about the bill.

“These abject forms of violence against children are crimes which should be punished as such, and in all cases the best interest of the child should prevail,” said spokesman Christophe Boulierac.

The bill follows a previous controversy after Turkey’s constitutional court in July annulled part of the criminal code which classified all sexual acts with children under 15 as sexual abuse.


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