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Thousands of Turks Protest Proposed Child-marriage Law

Turkish women protest in Ankara, Nov. 19, 2016, against a proposed law that would defer sentencing or punishment for child sexual assault in cases where there was no force and where the victim and perpetrator were later married. The placard reads: "We will not let you — rape cannot be legalized!"

Thousands of Turks took to the streets of Istanbul on Saturday, protesting against a proposed law that critics say would allow men convicted of child sexual assault to avoid punishment by marrying their victims.

With signs reading "Punish the rapist, not the child," and other expressions of defiance, including "Rape cannot be pardoned," an estimated 3,000 protesters marched in Kadikoy square in the city's Asian sector.

Opponents of the legislation, which was approved in a first reading Thursday, were reported to include an organization that employs a daughter of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose ruling AKP party introduced the bill.

The legislation is slated for a second vote after a debate set for Tuesday.

For its part, the government says the legislation is not intended to pardon rapists, but to influence the widespread rural custom of child marriages. It would, however, permit the release of men who assault minors "without force, threat or any other restriction on consent" if they marry the girls involved.

Critics say the measure effectively encourages underage marriage.

A spokesman for UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund, said Saturday that the organization was "deeply concerned" by the pending legislation. Christophe Boulierac told the French news agency AFP that "these abject forms of violence against children are crimes which should be punished as such."