Minister calls for additional measures to prevent child sexual abuse

Minister calls for additional measures to prevent child sexual abuse

Minister calls for additional measures to prevent child sexual abuse

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Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has called on the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to take additional measures against child sexual abuse, after a court in the Central Anatolian province of Karaman sentenced a teacher to 508 years in prison. The decision was challenged by the opposition for failing to recognize the responsibility of the foundations where the abuses took place.
“We must return to justice whoever did wrong, committed a crime or committed such an ugly act [as child sexual abuse]. We need to take them to court [and] make them accountable so that such immoral people aren’t encouraged by this secrecy and commit new crimes,” Bozdağ said while answering reporters’ questions during a visit to the Black Sea province of Trabzon late on April 20. 

Bozdağ stressed that criminal charges alone were not sufficient to prevent new cases of child abuse and argued that social awareness must be increased. “We must not remain silent in the face of heinous, immoral actions [and] crimes,” he said, calling on the AKP government and families to cooperate and take additional measures. 

A 54-year-old teacher, Muharrem Büyüktürk, was found guilty of abusing 10 male children to whom he had been giving private courses in apartments rented by the Karaman branch of the Ensar Foundation and the Karaman Religious Vocational High School (İmam Hatip) Alumni Association (KAİMDER). He was charged with “sexually abusing a child,” “deprivation of freedom,” “deliberately causing injury” and “encouraging a child to read and view obscene publications.”

While reports of the abuse sent shockwaves across the country, the incident also led to a political row between Family and Social Policies Minister Sema Ramazanoğlu and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, after the former defended the Ensar Foundation.

“The fact that such an incident happened once does not suffice to defame a prominent foundation,” Ramazanoğlu had said on March 22, leading to widespread criticism for tolerating sexual abuse. Kılıçdaroğlu also accused the minister of “lying in front of Ensar,” a Turkish idiom that means to protect someone, but which in return drew criticism from the government over the sexual connotations of the word “lying.”

After the court announced its decision late on April 20, CHP deputy chair Lale Karabıyık said the ruling dealt with only one aspect of a complex problem and underlined the pressing need to supervise high school dormitories – some of which function illegally. 

“There is an illegal structure formed by unknown persons. In this structure, some issues are neglected due to a lack of supervision. This creates a fertile ground for such sick people,” Karabıyık told reporters in Karaman on April 20. 

“We believe there is a serious lack of supervision in dormitories. There is a need for independent supervision,” she added, saying a trade association or the chamber of doctors could be put in charge.

The court’s quick ruling created controversy on social media, as some argued the strong punishment and the swiftness in closing the abuse case aimed at removing it from the country’s political agenda and diminishing its impact on the Ensar Foundation and KAİMDER. Others criticized the fact that only the teacher was convicted while Ensar and KAİMDER had a free pass, both of which were allowed by the court to join the case as victims. 

When asked about the allegations, Bozdağ said the decision belonged to the court and everybody had to respect it. 

On the other hand, Ensar Foundation head İsmail Cenk Dilberoğlu criticized such remarks, claiming those who said such things aimed to “sabotage” the trial and prolong the debate on the incident. 

“Civil society, our Ensar Foundation [and] many innocent volunteers were faced with serious insults and accusations. They branded [the aforementioned groups] as ‘rapists.’ They tried to create a perception [about the foundation],” Dilberoğlu claimed, adding they were set to initiate a judicial process. 

Meanwhile, Büyüktürk was transferred to Sincan F-Type prison in Ankara from Ereğli prison in the Central Anatolian province of Konya at midday on April 21. 

Reports indicated the convict was set to appeal the court’s ruling.