In August 2016, numerous social media posts and news articles reported that after a failed military coup in Turkey, the age of consent in that country has been lowered from 18 to 12. For example, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, published a tweet affirmatively stating the age of consent in Turkey had been lowered precipitously:

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister angrily denied Wallström’s statement on Twitter as well, terming the claim “stupid”:

A British tabloid detailed the origins of the claim, noting that a recent court decision had struck down a law defining sex acts with children under the age of 15 as “sexual abuse”:

The decision by the country’s constitutional court removes a legal provision that all sexual acts against children under the age of 15 are “sexual abuse”. Children aged 12, 13 and 14 will no longer receive automatic protection as a minor, according to the ruling, but will be expected to offer or decline consent in sexual activity. Experts say this is a green light for sex with “consenting” minors as young as 12.

The Guardian provided a more nuanced take on the developments that led to the rumor, reporting that “Turkey has summoned Sweden’s envoy in an escalating row after Stockholm accused Ankara of legalising sex with children” and stating that the age of consent in Turkey had not been affected by an unrelated July 2016 ruling pertaining to the adjudication of child abuse cases:

“It is a scandal for a foreign minister to post such a tweet based on false news or speculation,” the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said in televised comments, adding the Swedish ambassador to Ankara had been summoned to his ministry. However, the Swedish foreign ministry said it was the chargé d’affaires who was summoned by Ankara, as the ambassador was still on vacation. Çavuşoğlu blasted the “unacceptable” tweet, saying Wallström should have acted responsibly.

“A foreign minister should not tell lies and should not adopt an approach accusing Turkey,” he said. “Yes to criticism but this is a slander, a lie.” Turkey’s constitutional court in July annulled a criminal code provision punishing as “sexual abuse” all sexual acts involving children under the age of 15, responding to a petition brought by a lower court. The court has given a six-month period for parliament to draw up a new law based on its ruling.

The Guardian affirmed the age of consent in Turkey remained at 18 and was unaffected by the court ruling in question:

The lower court that brought the petition was worried there was no distinction between cases of sexual acts involving a young teenager or a toddler. The legal age of consent in Turkey remains 18 and was not affected by the ruling. But it drew a furious response from activists worried it would open the way for unpunished child sexual abuse.

In a lengthy statement, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs blamed a “falsified headline” published by a “discredited newspaper” and displayed on a prominent news ticker in Vienna for the rumors:

A falsified headline, claiming that abuse of children under the age of 15 is allowed in Turkey, was displayed on an electronic news ticker of “Kronen Zeitung” newspaper at the passenger lounge of the Vienna International Airport on 13 August 2016. This headline does not reflect the truth at all. Another headline reading that “Through vacation in Turkey you only support Erdoğan” was intentionally displayed on the same ticker in the near past. We deplore and strongly condemn that an international airport, which is located in the centre of Europe and intensely used by passengers from different countries, is abused by a discredited newspaper to spread its irresponsible, distorted and falsified messages in order to defame a friendly country and its nation.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs took the necessary steps through the Austrian Embassy in Ankara and the Turkish Embassy in Vienna also conveyed its reaction about the matter on the same day.

Turkey is a state that always aims at protecting and improving the universal human rights and is committed itself to the international conventions in the field of child rights and their additional protocols both verbally and spiritually, as an esteemed member of the international community. Turkey is aware of its responsibilities and duties in this field.

A country in a position of the rising centre of racism and xenophobia ever increasing in Europe should focus on healing these diseases through its politicians, media and society. Instead, some irresponsible media may falsify and reflect even judicial decisions in another country to feed their hateful and hostile discourses against a society and we consider it as a manifestation of these diseases.

Unfortunately, the statements of some Austrian politicians and officials against Turkey and EU membership of Turkey encourage such defamatory news.

This tendency damages social harmony and peace in Austria where more than 300 thousand people of Turkish origin live.

Although a copy of the ruling pertaining to the sexual abuse law is not readily available, officials in Turkey have maintained that the rumor is a misinterpretation of that judicial decision and that the age of consent remains at 18 in Turkey, not 12.