An amendment to the Code on Criminal Procedure which stipulates that instead of taking victim testimony, tangible evidence will be required in child abuse cases was approved by the Turkish Parliament yesterday as part of a new judicial reform package with the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
According to Turkish media, the amendment will make it more difficult to for child abusers to be prosecuted because witness testimony or other forms of tangible evidence such as DNA samples will be necessary for a conviction.
Legal experts have criticized the amendment, saying it would be exceedingly difficult to collect tangible evidence in abuse cases.
After the amendment was approved by parliament, Eyüp Fatih Sağban, a religious order leader who is currently under arrest for child abuse, demanded his release, saying there was no tangible evidence proving his alleged crime.
Speaking to Deutsche Welle Turkish service (DW), Ceren Kalay Eken from the Ankara Bar’s women rights center said the amendment was approved in parliament without consulting experts.
“Many children only talk about abuse when they are older,” said Eken. “The time between the complaint and when the actual abuse occurs is often too long to collect biological evidence. Moreover, abuse occurs mostly in secret and the confines of the home, making it nearly impossible to find a witness.”
According to Eken, abuse cases require the close observation of the victim and the alleged perpetrator, and doctor reports. Requiring other forms of proof will otherwise reward the perpetrators.
Seda Akco from the İstanbul Bar said it was necessary to discuss why it was so difficult to collect tangible evidence in abuse cases. “Children are not provided with a support system to help with the trauma,” she added.
Canan Güllü from the Turkish Federation of Women’s Organizations (TKDF) said the amendment was “designed to prevent abuse from being punished.” She added that the trauma of children who were abused could never be treated under the new regulation.
Güllü said it was imperative that government officials work with jurists, activists and NGOs to develop regulations that would serve the best interest of children and victims of abuse.
According to social workers, although awareness of child abuse has increased, there is still much to be done to prevent it from happening. Children are not well enough educated at the time to recognize abuse and speak about it to an adult they can trust. Social workers also point out that there are not enough inspections or adequate supervision of boarding schools and summer schools where children spend a considerable amount of time with adults.
Turkey ratified the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention, in 2011. According to the convention Turkey is not only responsible for prosecuting child abusers but also preventing child abuse.
Despite the convention children are the victims of 46 percent of all sexual assault cases in Turkey. Moreover, Turkey ranks third in sexual abuse cases worldwide. According to Ministry of Justice data, sexual misconduct against children increased 29 percent between 2012 and 2019.