Women’s rights organizations demonstrated against increasing cases of sexual abuse of minors in Turkey during and after a highly publicized trial on Monday concerning the sexual abuse of a young woman from the age of six.
According to the reporting of the Birgün daily, women’s rights groups gathered in front of the Istanbul Anatolia 2nd Hight Criminal Court on Monday, where the final hearing of the sexual abuse case of a woman identified as H.K.G. was taking place. They called on Turkish authorities to clamp down on underage marriages and the sexual abuse of minors.
“We know there are hundreds if not thousands of children who are suffering like H.K.G. did,” said Esen Karaküçük from the LEFT Feminist Movement. “The conservative Turkish government and its political allies are responsible for the increase in sexual abuse cases as they are enforcing patriarchal family values and turning a blind eye to underage marriages.”
Turkey learned about the ordeal of the woman, identified only by the initials H.K.G., on Dec. 3, 2022, in an article written by Birgün daily columnist Timur Soykan, who said H.K.G., the daughter of a man affiliated with the İsmailağa community – a Sunni sect based in İstanbul – had been sexually abused by a then-29-year-old neighbor and member of the community, Kadir İstekli, when she was six.
According to Soykan, H.K.G. was engaged to İstekli at the age of 13, married him in a religious ceremony when she was 14 and became a mother at 17. Their official marriage reportedly took place when H.K.G. turned 18.
Turkish media on Monday reported that the İstanbul Anatolia 2nd High Criminal Court gave prison sentences of 30 years to İstekli, 20 years to H.K.G.’s father Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel and 16 years, eight months to her mother Fatıma Gümüşel.
“These prison sentences were handed out thanks to women’s rights organizations that raised public awareness toward child abuse cases and demanded that authorities take action,” said Karaküçük. “However, we are not content with these prison sentences because we know there are many more cases that have gone unpunished.”
According to lawyer Nuriye Alsancak the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) is inadequate in prosecuting crimes against minors and women. “Although prison sentences have been handed down in this case, it is not enough unless we solve the root causes of the problem.”
Turkey has “one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe,” with an estimated 15 percent of girls married before the age of 18 and 2 percent married before the age of 15, according to the campaign group Girls Not Brides.
Although the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years in Turkey, the law allows parties to marry at 17 with parental consent, or, in exceptional circumstances, a court may grant approval for marriage at age 16.