Child deaths spark protests and death penalty debate around Turkey

Thousands of citizens marched in Turkish cities across the country on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the worryingly frequent incidence of child murders and abuse in Turkey, bringing the topic of capital punishment back to the agenda.

The protests were sparked by a latest, horrifying pair of incidents – the most recent being discovery on Monday of a dead four-year-old girl, Leyla Aydemir, whose body was found in her home province of Ağrı in eastern Turkey 18 days after going missing.

Another young girl, Eylül Yağlıkara, was found dead this year on Jun. 29 in Ankara, seven days after being reported missing. The autopsy found signs of sexual abuse.

Fifteen thousand people joined the “Don’t touch my child” march organised by civil society foundations in the west Turkish city of Bursa on Tuesday evening.

“There should be no more suffering of children like Eylül and Leyla. We haveorganisedthis march so that we don’t have to feel ashamed when we look our children in the face,” said Esra Yalçın Ünal, a representative of the groups that organised the march.

“Just putting the ones who commit these crimes in prison is not punishment enough. We expect the necessary, deterrent penal sanctions to be implemented without delay,” she continued.

The question of punishment of those found guilty of similar crimes is fast becoming a charged topic, with calls for the reinstatement of the death penalty heard at the march in Bursa and elsewhere in Turkey.

Previous calls for the death penalty have been made by politicians and supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the wake of the failed coup attempt in 2016, and the issue has remained on the agenda since.

“One step at a time,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a citizen who approached him in his car to ask about the death penalty on Tuesday, according to Turkish media reports.


A Turkish government spokesperson had already announced on Sunday, before the discovery of Leyla’s body, plans to mandate chemical castration for those convicted of sex offences against children.

Calls for the death penalty were reportedly heard at marches in Karabük in north Turkey and Mardin, southeast Turkey.

Punishment for child sexual abuse offenders was a significant issue for the group of women protesting the deaths in the south-eastern province of Kahramanmaraş on Wednesday.

“Even if the death penalty is not the answer, we want (offenders) to be given lasting punishments,” said Merve Bakbalay, a representative of the women at the protest.

However, the drive towards chemical castration and death penalties is a ruse by the government to absolve it of its responsibilities to protect children, said Filiz Koçak in a joint statement for union groups and other associations in Ankara.

Koçak recalled the worrying rate of child marriages in Turkey, which the Girls Not Brides charity organisation said is among the highest in Europe.

Diyanet, the Turkish state religious authority, evoked outrage in January when it published a page on its website saying it was permissible for girls as young as nine to marry if they had reached puberty.

The Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association (İHH), a Turkish non-governmental organisation, said in a statement that the death penalty and chemical castration would not prevent child abuse and murder.

“These policies are aimed at strengthening the central authority, not at children’s rights,” said Gülseren Yoleri, the İHH’s Istanbul branch president.

At the protest in Kocaeli, a province in western Turkey, women from the main opposition Republican People’s Party called on the government to begin implementing the existing punishments on offenders rather than bringing in capital punishment.