ANKARA, Turkey – A suggestion by Turkey's state religious affairs body that girls as young as 9 could marry has sparked an outcry, including calls for an inquiry and the dismantling of the scandal-tainted organization.
Its online glossary of Islamic terms, which has since been removed, defined marriage as an institution that saves a person from adultery and said girls can marry when they reach puberty — as early as age 9, Turkish media reports said.
Turkey's main opposition party has called for an investigation into the Directorate of Religious Affairs, or Diyanet, accusing it of inciting underage marriages. Social media users joined a campaign demanding the closure of the body that oversees mosques and imams and has frequently courted controversy.
Diyanet vehemently denied approving underage marriages, saying that "our directorate has never in its history approved of child marriages and never will."
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag accused the media of manipulating definitions in the glossary to make the government look as though it supports child marriages. Bozdag added that it was the religious body's duty to interpret terms according to Islamic laws, not civic laws.
The Diyanet previously caused fury for issuing an online fatwa, or religious ruling, suggesting that a father can lust after his daughter. That fatwa was quickly retracted. In other rulings, the Diyanet has said Muslims cannot marry non-Muslims and that engaged couples cannot be left alone or hold hands.
The legal age for marriage in Turkey is 18. Women's rights groups say underage marriage is widespread despite the laws and accuse authorities of not taking sufficient steps to protect girls from becoming "child brides."
In 2016, the government scrapped a proposal that critics said would have allowed men accused of statutory rape to go free if they were married to their victims, following similar outrage.