Sexual abuse against children on the rise
Nearly 70 percent of sexual assault crimes are committed against children.
By Erisa Dautaj Senerdem for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 23/08/12
Abuse and sexual crimes against children are on the rise in Turkey. Despite progress recorded by the state and civil society organisations, more efforts remain to develop advanced training for police, judges, prosecutors and lawyers, as well as the establishment of efficient denunciation, protection and prevention systems against child abuse, experts say.
Protesters in Ankara rally against the murder of women and the abuse of children, and demand protection for those who face domestic violence. [Reuters]
Court cases on sexual harassment, assault and abuse against children have been increasing year-by-year, with the figure reaching 13,812 in 2009, 17,241 in 2010 and increasing to 18,334 in 2011, according to data disclosed by the justice ministry.
"The recording of crimes regarding child abuse and neglect in Turkey by judicial and administrative bodies is an important development," Mustafa Ruhi Sirin, the chairman of the Children Foundation, told SES Türkiye, adding that most of crimes against minors were not recorded in the past.
However, the real figures regarding child exploitation and abuse are estimated to be much higher, according to Sahin Antakyalioglu, an Ankara-based lawyer and co-ordinator of the Network for the Struggle Against Commercial and Sexual Exploitation of Minors.
Many cases do not reach judicial authorities and are unreported to the police, for the sake of "preserving the abused child's honor," he told SES Türkiye.
One in three marriages involves children younger than 18, and Antakyalioglu said most of them were the result of sexual abuse.
However, Antakyalioglu said that existing legislation and punishment does not discourage criminals from abusing children, and that the "spirit of the law" is often not implemented.
Justice ministry figures show that about 70 percent of a total of 24,000 sexual assault crimes were committed against minors in 2011; 7,610 suspects were accussed of raping children younger than 15 years, 4,903 for sexual abuse and 1,759 suspects were accused for having sexual relations with a minor.
In previous years, abused children and their families were not able to rely on the judicial system, according to Turkay Asma, the chairwoman of the Turkish Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. "Justice is still not entirely helpful to children [in this regard]," Asma told SES Türkiye.
Most of the judges ask for witnesses in child abuse cases, without considering the fact that the crimes are usually committed without the presence of a third person, she added.
While court proceedings progress very slowly, this harms children's psychology, according to Asma. Another serious issue is lack of training for all stakeholders, particularly for judges and lawyers involved in such cases, she said.
Furthermore, the justice ministry reported 812 cases filed on underage prostitution in 2009, up from 764 in 2010 and 672 in 2011.
A majority of children that fall victim to prostitution tend to have been abused before, Asma said. In order to prevent such a phenomenon, Turkey must strengthen the protection system for abused children, as well as increase public awareness regarding the issue and strengthen the police and prosecution of such crimes, she said.
Sirin said he believed radical progress could be made if the state and civil society organisations work together to build up a preventive system. Noting that the Family and Social Policies Ministry was currently working in this direction, he said that development of proper policies regarding children rights would speed up the process.
According to a draft law, expected to be passed by parliament, family members and cousins would be subject to the law on child exploitation in the framework of incest crimes and punishment harsher.
Currently, legal proceeding are initiated only if a child older than 15 complains, but the draft would eliminate the need for this and legal proceedings could be started upon the complaint of a third party, other than the child. Those who have committed crimes related to child abuse and harassment would be barred from working in any environment where there are children for the rest of their lives, according to the draft law.