Turkey’s government is to withdraw a bill that could overturn men’s convictions for child-sex assault after a public backlash, the prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, has said.
Critics had said the bill – which would allow the release from jail of sex assault convicts if they marry their victims – would legitimise rape. Thousands of people protested against the bill at the weekend.
“We are taking this bill in the parliament back to the commission in order to allow for the broad consensus the president requested, and to give time for the opposition parties to develop their proposals,” Yıldırım said on Tuesday. “This commission will evaluate and take into account all sides and surely a solution will be found,” he added.
In comments overnight, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had called for a compromise to be found.
The bill’s withdrawal marks a rare concession to popular opposition by the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) The AKP has dominated Turkish politics since coming to power in 2002.
If the bill had passed, it would have permitted the release from prison of men guilty of assaulting a minor if the act was committed without “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” and if the aggressor marries the victim.
Opposition parties from across the political spectrum had heavily criticised the bill, which was approved in an initial parliamentary reading on Thursday. It had been expected to be put forward again in parliament on Tuesday.
The main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) had called for the bill to be withdrawn and vowed to go as far as the constitutional court to block it.
But the Turkish government insisted it was trying to help families in which the men involved were not rapists or sexual aggressors, and who were unaware of the law. The legal age of consent in Turkey is 18 but child marriage is widespread, especially in the south-east of the country.
Even as he said the bill would be withdrawn, Yıldırım said the proposals sought to rectify the situation for 3,800 families who “are forced to grow up without the love of their father” – probably imprisoned – and “paying for the mistakes of their mothers and fathers”.
But as well as opposition activists, the bill had also been criticised by the pro-government Women’s and Democracy Association (Kadem), whose deputy chairman is Erdoğan’s younger daughter, Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar.
Kadem said in a statement on Friday that one of the bill’s biggest problems would be proving legally what constituted force or consent.
Campaigners have long accused the government of failing to do enough to stop child marriage and of paying more attention to pushing up the birth rate. Erdoğan in June this year urged women to have at least three children and once described birth control as treason.