“Exactly how many women are murdered in Turkey every year?”
It appeared that the government did not have a definitive answer to this straightforward question. I am not sure if they have one for another equally current and urgent question: “How many children are killed each year and by whom?”
Recent abductions and the most heinous, violent crimes imaginable against children have understandably caused grief and collective moral outrage in Turkey. It has also created an impression that such attacks are on the increase.
Until we have reliable new information, it is impossible to say if that is really the case. However, we do know from the General Directorate of Criminal Records and Statistics’ previous statements that between 2008 and 2012, cases of child abuse and sexual harassment were on a steady rise over the period. Earlier this year, it was reported that a total of 14,412 children have gone missing in Turkey in the last five years. This was contested by the Interior Minister Efkan Ala who said the vast majority were found unharmed.
Getting a clear picture of how many children go missing- and why -is an important step in preventing these crimes.
The government has a duty to inform the public with accurate data and to make crime prevention a higher priority.
Existing laws do not adequately prevent violence against women and children in Turkey.
Family and Social Policies Minister Ayşenur İslam held a press conference on April 30, announcing that a bill amending penalties for sexual abuse and assault was on the agenda of the Justice Ministry. She said that it would increase the punishment for sexual crimes committed against children and adults.
Before this new bill is made into law, a thorough political and public debate is crucial. A review of the national legislation and the discrepancies between Child Protection Law, the Turkish Civil Code and the Penal Code are long overdue.
Revision of the legislation is not enough. What Turkey needs is a culture change in its attitude to children’s rights and protection. Turning a blind eye to harmful cultural and religious practices such as child marriages is in direct contradiction to government’s declared intention to improve child welfare and safety.
Educating the public about crimes against women and children and how to prevent them are important and urgent tasks for Turkey’s leaders.
Raising public awareness on child abuse prevention and protecting children from risk of being victims of crime require a clear policy and much better resources.
Families need to be taught how to better protect their children. Both at home and at school, children should be helped to gain skills on how to keep themselves safe; not only against strangers but against family members and those they know.
The media also has a crucial role to play. In recent days, the Turkish media has failed to balance the duty of informing the public accurately with the risk of causing sensation and alarm.
Graphic details of the horrific attacks on children described with strong adjectives; often peppered with speculations and judgmental comments about the circumstances do not serve the public interest.
It only adds to the distress of families by making their personal tragedy into a public spectacle. It may also encourage copy-cat attacks in future.
Revealing the identity of suspects and their their families while whipping up the public’s outrage do not serve the justice, either. In most countries, this would be considered an interference in the legal process and a possible contempt of court.
When the media focuses on lurid details of a violent crime, it contributes to fear of crime. Fear of crime brings extreme and poorly thought solutions rather than preventative and effective change. In recent days, we have already witnessed a big increase in calls for the return of the death penalty and vigilantism.
Instead of blindly following public opinion and pandering to populism, a responsible media should strive to provide accurate information and to raise pertinent questions that help advance the public debate.
This post is also available in: Turkish