Turkey pledges no gaps in child sex abuse laws amid criticism

Turkey pledged Monday that there would be no gaps in its laws meant to protect children from sexual abuse, following domestic and international criticism of a top court's ruling which annulled existing legislation.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom claimed Turkey was set to "allow sex with children," a comment that drew sharp rebukes in Ankara and led to the summoning of a Swedish envoy.

Turkish officials said new legislation is currently being drafted to avoid any potential gaps.

The Constitutional Court had struck down, in two rulings, the current law on defining sexual abuse of a minor and forcing mandatory minimum sentencing. The decision said the law was overly broad and did not distinguish between different categories of abusers and victims.

The current law potentially "leads to imposing of heavy penalties which do not match the circumstances of the case at hand or which distorts the fair balance between the crime and the sanction applied," a court ruling from 2015 stated.

However, the court also made it clear that the law would remain in effect until December, giving the government and parliament time to draft new legislation that would be constitutional.

The court's decision drew concern from children's rights defenders at home, some of whom worried about gaps in coverage and that potentially a wrong message was being sent. Dissident judges in the decision warned about potential public outrage.

In particular, advocates from lobby groups worried the court was not considering all minors under the age of 18 to be children.

Additionally, there has been criticism from abroad. Sweden's Wallstrom said on her Twitter feed: "Turkish decision to allow sex with children under 15 must be reversed. Children need more protection, not less, against violence, sex abuse."

Sweden's charge d'affairs in Turkey, Hedvig Lohm, was subsequently summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Ankara, a spokesman for Wallstrom said.

Turkish officials expressed "disappointment” over Wallstrom’s tweet, her spokesman Pezhman Fivrin said.

Turkish officials argued that Wallstrom had misunderstood the nature of the legislation, while the Swedish diplomat said Wallstrom had expressed "general concern” over the consequences about the recent court ruling.

Turkey was also angry with Austria, after a news ticker at Vienna airport carried a similar headline to Wallstrom's tweet.

A Turkish government official promised legislation was already being drafted.

"A new law will replace the existing provisions to make sure that children of all ages will continue to be protected against sexual predators," the government official said on condition of anonymity, as per rules.

"The allegations that acts of sexual abuse of children under the age of 15 are not penalized in Turkey are unsubstantial and groundless," Turkey's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Turkey has recently seen high profile sexual abuse cases, including one at a refugee camp for Syrians and another at a home for orphans run by a charity affiliated with the government's ruling party.

Last update: Mon, 15/08/2016 - 17:39
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