There is not a day that goes by that we do not hear another woman being killed or a child being abused in Turkey.
In 2017, the same organization had put the number of women killed to 409, and children sexually abused to 387. The main opposition Republican People’s Party is on record as saying that cases of child abuse increased by 700 percent from 2006 to 2015.
On 15 February, the Republican People’s Party deputy Mehmet Tüm held a press conference at the Parliament, accusing the prosecutor and the police in a current child sexual abuse case in Ankara of trying to cover up.
He expressed anger over insensitivity of the government as well as many in society towards child abuse accusations, which now make up the majority of cases dealt with in Turkey’s courts. “Normalization of child abuse is a shame for our country”, he said.
Mehmet Tüm criticized the government for encouraging and legitimizing existing conservative practices in society by introducing legislation to make child marriages easier, and by giving religious brotherhoods a bigger unsupervised role in educational establishments.
Horrid crimes of child sexual abuse, femicide and domestic violence happen in every country, but the sharp rise in recent years in Turkey, taken together with the institutional failure to prevent, protect and support victims, makes is an even more urgent problem to be tackled.
The problem is not the lack of legal framework. Turkey is party to The Convention on Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Protection of children and young people is guaranteed under the country’s Constitution.
Turkey was the first signatory state for the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention.
Despite having the legal framework, the judicial system and law-enforcing agencies are lenient. Societal attitudes towards child marriage and domestic violence against women compound the problem and create a climate of impunity.
In recent years, the main opposition Republican People’s Party and the second biggest opposition, Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) have attempted to raise the issue in the Parliament but the ruling Justice and Development Party AKP and its political ally The Nationalist Movement Party used their majority to block them on several occasions.
There is often a media blackout imposed on child abuse cases. Journalists reporting abuse cases are targetted, sometimes even receiving death threats.
Pro-government media sees calls for action and display of political will to deal with abuse as malicious attacks on the government and its conservative, Islamists policies. They either ignore the issue or launch attacks on those bringing it to public’s attention.
The AKP’s spokesman Mahir Ünal recently complained about reporting on television news bullettins. He claimed that they were deliberately giving a wrong impression about the country. “We know what you’re trying to do. Do not blacken the name of this heroic nation” he said.
Years of fomenting partisan political polarization in Turkey has exposed and exacerbated divisions across society. Whilst a considerable majority now choose to ignore or deny that there is a problem, the rest are angry and frustrated.
Under the present emergency rule, the right to public protest is severely curtailed. It is difficult to defend anybody’s rights, including women and children at risk.
Hundreds of civil society organisations have been shut down, among them women’s organisations and children’s rights defenders.
Nevertheless, protestors still take to the streetss from time to time; just like they did in Ankara Mamak or in Adana this week.
The extent and magnitude of violence against women and children are so great, other kinds of less violent exploitation and maltreatment, such as corporal punishment in schools and the widespread use of child labour, do not even get a look in.
The very fabric of society, in any country, is dependent on sharing basic norms. The woeful lack of human decency in response to physical and sexual violence against women and children in Turkey is indicative of something very rotten at the core of today’s society.
This post is also available in: Turkish