United Nations agencies are urging Turkey's government not to press ahead with a proposal that critics say would legitimize child marriages.

The proposal, scheduled to undergo a final vote on Tuesday, would defer sentencing or punishment for sexual assault in cases where there was no force and where the victim and perpetrator were married. The age of consent in Turkey is 18, although courts can permit civil marriages for people as young as 16. Many younger people are married in Islamic ceremonies.

U.N. agencies including UNICEF said the bill — which has sparked an outcry in Turkey — would weaken the country's ability to "combat sexual abuse and child marriages." Critics also say it pardons statutory rape.

The government insists it is committed to fighting child marriages but says the one-time measure is needed to help couples who were married according to their customs.