The ex-husband and father of a young woman who filed criminal complaints against them alleging that she was sexually abused starting at the age of six and has been subjected to abuse ever since were arrested shortly after their detention, local media reported on Thursday.
Turkey learned about the ordeal of the woman, identified only by the initials H.K.G., on Dec. 3 in an article written by Birgün daily columnist Timur Soykan, who said H.K.G., the daughter of a man affiliated with the İsmailağa community – a Sunni sect based in İstanbul – had been sexually abused by a then-29-year-old neighbor and member of the community, Kadir İstekli, when she was six.
According to Soykan, H.K.G. was engaged to İstekli at the age of 13, married him in a religious ceremony when she was 14 and became a mother at 17. Their official marriage reportedly took place when H. K.G. turned 18.
On Nov. 30, 2020, H.K.G. filed a criminal complaint against İstekli on charges of sexual abuse, in addition to her mother Fatma Gümüşel and father Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel, also the founder of the İsmailağa community-linked Hiranur Foundation, whom she accused of condoning the abuse.
The indictment drafted by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office seeks 22 years, six months in prison for each of H.K.G.’s parents on charges of “successive child molestation” and 67 years, 10 months and 15 days in prison for İstekli on the same charge in addition to the charge of “sexual assault.”
The ex-husband of H.K.G. was detained on Wednesday, while her father was detained in the early hours of Thursday, according to Turkish media reports, which added that they were both arrested by a court later on Thursday.
The İstanbul Anatolia 2nd High Criminal Court, which initially set the first hearing in the trial for May 22, 2023, advanced the date to Jan. 30, 2023 following reactions from the public that accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), especially the justice and family and social services ministries, of inaction on the case although they had known about H.K.G.’s allegations for the past two years.
H.K.G.’s allegations sparked outrage in Turkey, which has “one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe,” with an estimated 15 percent of girls married before the age of 18 and 2 percent married before the age of 15, according to the campaign group Girls Not Brides.
Although the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years in Turkey, the law allows parties to marry at 17 with parental consent, or, in exceptional circumstances, a court may grant approval for marriage at age 16.