Turkey should again consider criminalizing adultery, Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday, revisiting an issue that caused outrage among secular Turks and warnings from the European Union (EU) when his party raised it more than a decade ago.
Speaking to the reporters following a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdoğan said there has been a 700 percent rise in the number of sexual crimes committed in Turkey over the past decade, adding that adultery should also be considered within the “same scope” as child abuse.
The Islamist-rooted AKP floated the idea in 2004, two years after it first came to power, as part of a broad overhaul of the Turkish penal code. But the proposal caused a backlash from the secular opposition and EU officials said it could jeopardize Turkey’s efforts to join the union.
While Turkey is still technically a candidate to join the union, its accession talks were frozen in the wake of a widespread crackdown that followed a failed coup in 2016. In return, Erdoğan has been angered by what he sees as EU stalling of the bid and has threatened to walk away from the talks.
The president said it is his government’s duty to protect innocent children from all kinds of threats and that failing to do so could lead to the collapse of the society. “I think it would be very, very well-timed to again discuss the adultery issue, as our society is in a different position with regards to moral values,” Erdoğan has also told the reporters.
“This is a very old issue, far-reaching. It should be discussed. It was already in our legal proposals in 2004 in the first place. At that time we took a step in accordance with the EU’s demands, but we made a mistake,” he said.
Erdoğan’s comment that by meeting EU standards Turkey made a mistake underscores the growing divide between Ankara and Brussels and may not bode well for a coming summit with the bloc in March. Turkey decriminalized adultery for women in the late 1990s. It had long been legal for men.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül also said on Tuesday that legal steps were being taken against the increase in child abuse and that the government was considering introducing chemical castration for child sex offenders, by putting in place the relevant regulations in a couple of days.
“We want to enact the measure of reducing and suppressing the sexual drive with chemicals during the punishment execution period, as per a court decision, within a few days,” Gül said.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also announced on Monday that a commission of six ministers had been formed to deal with the child abuse issue.
“This society holds a different position with regards to its moral values. During the EU [accession] process — this is self-criticism, I admit that — we made a mistake,” Erdoğan said on Tuesday.
Back in 2004, Erdoğan said at a news conference with an EU official that no legislative measures would be taken aimed at criminalizing adultery during his party’s term in power. “I don’t know what will happen after us,” he said.
While European leaders have robustly criticized Turkey for what they see as rapid backsliding on democracy and human rights, especially the crackdown, Europe still relies on Turkey as a NATO ally on Europe’s southern flank.