Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits sexual assault, including rape and spousal rape, with penalties of two to 10 years’ imprisonment for conviction of attempted sexual violation and at least 12 years’ imprisonment for conviction of rape or sexual violation. In some cases, the government did not effectively or fully enforce these laws or protect victims. The law prohibits violence against women, but some human rights organizations claimed the government did not effectively enforce it. On February 28, Gamse Kuru was murdered by her ex-husband, after authorities failed to provide her protection. In 2017 Kuru applied for protection from the state, but her request was denied. Following repeated threats, she applied again and the court granted her protection on the same day she was murdered.
The law covers all women and requires police and local authorities to grant various levels of protection and support services to survivors of violence or those at risk of violence. It also requires government services, such as shelter and temporary financial support, for victims and provides for family courts to impose sanctions on perpetrators.
The law provides for the establishment of violence-prevention and monitoring centers to offer economic, psychological, legal, and social assistance. Women’s NGOs asserted there were not enough shelters to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of women applying for assistance and that shelter staff did not provide adequate care and services. Some NGOs noted the lack of services was more acute for women in certain categories, such as elderly and LGBTI women as well as women with older children.
The government operated a nationwide domestic violence hotline. NGOs asserted that the quality of services provided in calls was inadequate for victims of domestic violence. Violence against women, including spousal abuse, remained a serious and widespread problem both in rural and urban areas. According to public opinion polling conducted annually by Kadir Has University’s Gender and Women’s Studies Research Center, violence continued to be the biggest concern for women in the country with 61 percent of respondents citing the issue. Spousal rape is a criminal offense, and the law also provides criminal penalties for conviction of crimes such as assault, wrongful imprisonment, or threats. Despite these measures, the number of killings and other forms of violence against women remained high. According to We will Stop Femicide Association’s November report, 363 women were murdered between January and November.
Courts regularly issued restraining orders to protect victims, but human rights organizations reported that police rarely enforced them effectively. For example, on September 19, Gonul Demir was murdered by her husband despite a restraining order. A women’s rights NGO alleged that capacity constraints as a result of the government’s response to the failed coup in 2016 kept some authorities “too busy” to address complaints of violence against women. Women’s associations also charged that government counselors sometimes encouraged women to remain in abusive marriages at their own personal risk rather than break up families.
Courts in some cases gave reduced sentences to some men found guilty of committing violence against women, citing good behavior during the trial or “provocation” by women as an extenuating circumstance of the crime. For example, in April, an Istanbul court reduced the aggravated life imprisonment sentence for Abdullah Melih Baris to life in prison with possibility of parole due to his good conduct at his hearings. Courts had convicted Baris in 2016 of murdering his girlfriend, Nurcan Arslan. We will Stop the Femicide Association announced that in the first 11 months of the year, courts finalized/reached a verdict in 24 femicide cases. In 10 cases, the court ordered reduced sentences due to the suspect’s “good conduct” or because there had been “severe provocation” to justify the crime.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: So-called honor killings of women remained a problem. Human rights activists and academics alleged that the practice continued across the country. In the eastern province of Igdir, a woman was killed by her two brothers in October. Authorities arrested the suspects and charged them with “voluntary manslaughter by killing a sibling with the intention of honor.”
Individuals convicted of honor killings may receive life imprisonment, but NGOs reported that courts often reduced actual sentences due to mitigating factors. The law allows judges, when establishing sentences, to take into account anger or passion caused by the “misbehavior” of the victim.
Sexual Harassment: The law provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for sexual harassment. If the victim is a child, the recommended punishments are longer. Women’s rights activists reported that authorities rarely enforced these laws.
Gender equality organizations indicated that incidents of verbal harassment and physical intimidation of women in public occur with regularity, and cited a permissive social environment in which harassers feel emboldened as the cause.
Some women’s rights NGOs asserted that weak legal enforcement of existing laws designed to protect women and light sentencing of violent perpetrators of crimes against women contributed to a climate of permissiveness for potential offenders. State of emergency provisions in 2017 increased the number of crimes, including crimes involving threats to women, which may be resolved through mediation instead of the court system. Critics complained the move lowered the severity of potential criminal punishments of perpetrators of violence against women, undermining women’s safety and potentially enabling impunity.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or forced sterilization.
Discrimination: While women enjoy the same rights as men by law, societal and official discrimination were widespread. Women faced discrimination in employment (see section 7.d.).
The constitution permits measures, including positive discrimination, to advance gender equality. To encourage the hiring of women, the state paid social services insurance premiums on behalf of employers for several months for any female employee older than the age of 18. Laws introduced as a gender justice initiative provided for maternity leave, breastfeeding time during work hours, flexibility in work hours, and required childcare by large employers. However, rights organizations, contended that these changes in the legal framework discouraged employers from hiring women and negatively impacted their promotion potential.
Birth Registration: There was universal birth registration, and births were generally registered promptly. A child receives citizenship from his or her parents, not through birth in the country. Only one parent needs to be a citizen to convey citizenship to a child. In special cases in which a child born in the country cannot receive citizenship from any other country due to the status of his or her parents, the child is legally entitled to receive citizenship.
Education: Human rights NGOs and others expressed concern that the law on compulsory education continued to allow some female students to be kept at home and married early. Ministry of National Education statistics cited in June by the Children’s Rights Commission of the Istanbul Bar Association for 2017 indicated that 97.4 percent of students who said they could not continue education were girls. The Education Reform Initiative, an NGO focusing on education, reported in its Education Monitoring Report for 2017-18 that the government took important positive steps to expand girls’ access to education, including by providing conditional cash transfers to incentivize poor families to continue education for their daughters. According to European Statistics Office data, drop-out rates in Turkey were 34 percent for girls and 31 percent for boys in 2017, an improving trend.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in its Education at a Glance report for the year, identified gaps between girls’ and boys’ access to education and reported that nearly 40 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 29 neither continued their education nor joined the labor market.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was a problem. The law authorizes police and local officials to grant various levels of protection and support services to victims of violence or to those at risk of violence. It requires the government to provide services to victims, such as shelter and temporary financial support, and empowers family courts to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.
By law, if the victim of abuse is between 12 and 18, molestation results in a three-to-eight-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in an eight-to-15-year sentence, and rape in a sentence of at least 16 years. If the victim is younger than 12, molestation results in a minimum five-year prison sentence, sexual abuse in a minimum 10-year sentence, and rape in a minimum 18-year sentence.
Government authorities increased attention on the problem of child abuse. According to a May 27 report by the Acibadem Crime and Violence Research Center, Child Abuse in Turkey Report-2, the documented number of child sexual abuse victims increased by 33 percent between 2011 and 2016. According to the report, between 2011 and 2016, 21,068 applications were made to children monitoring centers. In 2016 alone, 2,487 girls and 1,124 boys younger than the age of 12 faced sexual abuse. The women’s NGO We Will Stop Femicides reported that, in just the month of July, there were 433 reported cases of child sexual abuse. According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 16,348 child sex abuse cases filed in 2017.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law defines 18 as the minimum age for marriage, although children may marry at 17 with parental permission and at 16 with court approval. The law acknowledges civil and religious marriages, but the latter were not always registered with the state.
NGOs reported that children as young as 12 were at times married in unofficial religious ceremonies, particularly in poor and rural regions and among the Syrian population living in the country. Early and forced marriage was particularly prevalent in the southeast, and women’s rights activists reported the problem remained serious.
Separately, women’s rights groups stated that forced marriages and bride kidnapping persisted, particularly in rural areas, although it was not as widespread as in previous years.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The constitution requires the state to take measures to protect children from exploitation. The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children and mandates a minimum sentence of eight years in prison. The penalty for conviction of encouraging or facilitating child prostitution is up to 10 years’ imprisonment; if violence or pressure is involved, a judge may double the sentence.
The age of consent for sex is 18. In 2016 the Constitutional Court annulled a provision in the criminal code that punished all acts involving children younger than the age of 15 as “sexual abuse.” The law prohibits producing or disseminating child pornography and stipulates a prison sentence of up to two years as well as a fine for violations.
Incest involving children remained a problem, although prosecutions remained minimal. The law provides prison sentences of up to five years for incest.
Many women’s and migrant rights NGOs reported that displaced children, mostly Syrian, remained vulnerable to economic and sexual abuse.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
According to the Chief Rabbinate in Istanbul, there were approximately 14,000 Jews living in the country. Some emigrated due to anti-Semitism.
Jewish citizens expressed concern regarding anti-Semitism and security threats in the country. Anti-Semitic rhetoric continued in print media and on social media throughout the year. According to a 2017 Hrant Dink Foundation report on hate speech, there were 1,251 published instances of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the press depicting Jews as violent, conspiratorial, and enemies of the country. The Middle East Media Research Institute documented a significant number of anti-Jewish social media posts in Turkish during May praising Hitler, promoting violence against Jews and the State of Israel, and espousing the involvement of Jews in conspiracies to undermine the country.
The government took a number of positive steps to combat anti-Semitism during the year. On January 25, Ankara University hosted an event to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which also issued a written statement commemorating the event. In September and December, President Erdogan sent the Jewish Community a public message celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah that highlighted religious diversity as part of the country’s wealth.
Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. NGOs that advocate for persons with disabilities asserted the government did not enforce the law effectively. In July the Disabled Rights Platform reported that disabled persons continued to face major obstacles in the country.
The law requires all governmental institutions and businesses to provide persons with disabilities access to public areas and public transportation and allows for the establishment of review commissions and fines for noncompliance. The government, nonetheless, made little progress implementing the law, and access in most cities remained extremely limited.
The Ministry of Labor, Social Services, and Family is responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The ministry maintained social service centers assisting marginalized individuals, including persons with disabilities. The majority of children with disabilities were “mainstreamed” in public schools and there were special education centers for students whose disability precluded them from participating in regular public schools.
The law requires all public schools to accommodate students with disabilities, although activists reported instances of such students being refused admission or encouraged to drop out of school. According to disability activists, a large number of school-age children with disabilities did not receive adequate access to education. The Education Reform Initiative’s Education Monitoring Report for 2017-2018 reported that according to Ministry of National Education statistics on primary, middle and high schools, a total of 349,896 students with disabilities were in school, with 255,169 studying in regular schools and the remainder in either state-run or privately owned special education schools. A Ministry of Labor, Social Services, and Family program allowed individuals with autism to stay in government-run houses and offered state resources to families who were unable to attend to all the needs of their autistic children.
The constitution provides a single nationality designation for all citizens and does not expressly recognize national, racial, or ethnic minorities except for three non-Muslim minorities: Armenian Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Greek Orthodox Christians. Other national or ethnic minorities, including Assyrians, Jaferis, Yezidis, Kurds, Arabs, Roma, Circassians, and Laz, were not permitted to exercise their linguistic, religious, and cultural rights fully.
More than 15 million citizens were estimated to be of Kurdish origin and spoke Kurdish dialects. Security force efforts against the PKK disproportionately affected Kurdish communities in rural areas throughout much of the year. Some predominantly Kurdish communities experienced government-imposed curfews, generally in connection with government security operations aimed at clearing areas of PKK terrorists (see section 1.g.).
Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organizations and political parties reported increasing problems exercising freedoms of assembly and association (see section 2.b.). Hundreds of Kurdish civil society organizations and Kurdish-language media outlets closed by government decree in 2016 and 2017, after the coup attempt remained closed. On December 10, the HRA reported that 2,854 persons including military, police, village guards, PKK members, and civilians, had lost their lives during government-PKK clashes in the southeast since 2016.
The law allows citizens to open private institutions to provide education in languages and dialects they traditionally used in their daily lives, on the condition that schools were subject to the law and inspected by the Ministry of National Education. Some universities offered elective Kurdish-language courses, and two universities had Kurdish language departments, although several instructors in these departments were among the thousands of university personnel fired under official decrees, leaving the programs unstaffed. The law also allows reinstatement of former non-Turkish names of villages and neighborhoods and provides political parties and their members the right to campaign and use promotional material in any language; this right was not protected in practice.
The law restricts the use of languages other than Turkish in government and public services. For example, in August, the Adana Metropolitan Municipality removed Arabic signage on the grounds it did not comply with official regulations.
Although the government officially allows the use of Kurdish in private education and in public discourse, it did not extend permission for Kurdish-language instruction to public education.
Romani communities reported being subjected to disproportionate police violence and housing loss due to urban transformation projects that extended into their traditional areas of residence. The Romani community also faced problems with access to education, housing, health care, and employment. Roma reported difficulty in taking advantage of government offers to subsidize rent on apartments due to discriminatory rental practices. According to Member of Parliament Ozcan Purcu, despite positive changes in perceptions, 96 percent of Roma were unemployed, although many worked in jobs in the informal economy. In line with a national Romani strategy adopted by the cabinet in 2016, the government carried out a number of pilot projects to enhance social inclusion of Romani citizens, including vocational courses offered by the government’s employment agency, IsKur. Roma advocates complained that there was little concrete advancement for Roma. They also complained that, under the state of emergency, NGOs that offered literacy courses to Roma either were shut down or faced severe restrictions.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
While the law does not explicitly criminalize LGBTI status or conduct, provisions of law concerning “offenses against public morality,” “protection of the family,” and “unnatural sexual behavior” sometimes served as a basis for abuse by police and discrimination by employers.
Numerous LGBTI organizations reported a heightened sense of vulnerability under the state of emergency, as well as growing restrictions on their freedom of speech, assembly, and association. During the year the Ankara governor’s office continued its indefinite 2017 ban on all public LGBTI events in the province, citing public safety concerns. In addition to prohibiting the annual pride march, the ban also prevented a screening of the film “Pride” at the Ankara Bar Association’s training center on May 29. The Constitutional Court rejected a request by LGBTI groups for an injunction on the ban without rendering a decision on the case itself. Based on the court’s action, LGBTI organizations appealed the case to the ECHR.
The criminal code does not include specific protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The law allows for up to three years in prison for hate speech or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law’s failure to include protections based on gender identity and noted it was sometimes used to restrict freedom of speech rather than to protect minorities. LGBTI definitions were not included in the law, but authorities reported a general “gender” concept in the constitution provides for protections for LGBTI individuals. KAOS-GL, a domestic NGO focused on LGBTI rights, maintained that due to the law’s failure to recognize the existence of LGBTI individuals, authorities did not provide them social protection.
KAOS-GL reported that some LGBTI individuals were unable to access health services or faced discrimination. LGBTI individuals reported they felt the need to hide their identities, faced mistreatment by health-service providers (in many cases preferring not to request any service), and noted that prejudice against HIV-positive individuals negatively affected perceptions of the LGBTI community.
As of March 2018, individuals were no longer required to undergo compulsory sterilization as a legal precondition to legal recognition of their gender identity.
During the year LGBTI individuals experienced discrimination, intimidation, and violent crimes. Human rights attorneys reported that police and prosecutors frequently failed to pursue cases of violence against transgender persons aggressively. Police often did not arrest suspects or hold them in pretrial detention, as was common with other defendants. When arrests were made, defendants could claim “unjustifiable provocation” under the penal code and request a reduced sentence. Judges routinely applied the law to reduce the sentences of persons who killed LGBTI individuals. Courts of appeal upheld these verdicts based, in part, on the “immoral nature” of the victim. LGBTI advocates reported that police detained transgender individuals engaged in sex work to extract payoffs and that courts and prosecutors created an environment of impunity for attacks on transgender persons involved in sex work.
Violence against LGBTI individuals continued throughout the year. On July 13, a 24-year-old transgender woman was killed in Samsun in an act of bias-motivated violence. Authorities arrested and sentenced him to prison.
On May 30, a refugee transgender woman was attacked by a group of men in Yalova. LGBTI activists stated it was the fourth attack in one week in that city.
For the fourth year in a row, the governor’s office banned Istanbul’s pride march, citing public safety concerns. Despite the ban and heavy police presence, several hundred activists and supporters took part in the event. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up crowds and prevent participants from entering areas in and around Taksim Square, detaining 11 participants. Organizers did not hold a transgender march during the year due to security concerns.
Additional pride marches took place in Mersin, where approximately 100 persons participated despite an official ban, and Izmir, where more than 2,000 marched on June 11. The Adana governor’s office banned the city’s first pride march based on concerns about social sensitivities and public safety.
Some LGBTI groups reported harassment by police, government, and university authorities. University groups in cities across the country complained that rectors had denied them permission to organize. LGBTI organizations reported the government used regular and detailed audits against them to create administrative burdens and threatened the possibility of large fines.
KAOS-GL reported in its 2017 Hate Crime Report that out of 117 cases of violence reported to the organization, only 19 were reported to the police and only seven resulted in a court hearing.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Many persons with HIV/AIDS reported discrimination in access to employment, housing, public services, benefits, and health care. The Positive Living Association noted that the country lacked laws protecting persons with HIV/AIDS from discrimination and that there were legal obstacles to anonymous HIV testing. Due to pervasive social stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS, many individuals feared the results of HIV tests would be used against them and avoided testing.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Armenians, Alevis, and other Christians remained the subject of hate speech and discrimination. The term “Armenian” remained a common slur. Attacks on Christian and Jewish places of worship were rare, but on April 29, vandals scrawled nationalist graffiti and dumped trash outside an Armenian church in Istanbul. Government authorities, including Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, condemned the attack and opened an investigation, resulting in the detention of a suspect. Between March 16 and 24, courts reportedly arrested 16 members of the Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Association (PSDAK), the largest Alevi organization in the country, who were accused of “aiding a terrorist organization.” PSDAK stated that all indictments of its members failed to associate them with any violence and claimed that they were arrested due to their religious activities.
According to the Hrant Dink Foundation’s Media Watch on Hate Speech Report, an analysis of national and local newspapers between January and April, found 3,076 instances of published hate speech that targeted national, ethnic, and religious groups. The most targeted groups were Armenians, Jews, Greeks, and Syrians.
Atheists also remained the subject of intimidation in progovernment media, albeit at a lower level relative to other religious minorities.