Two Turkish government ministries on Thursday announced investigations into a report that an Istanbul hospital had covered up 115 pregnancies by underage girls, many of them Syrians.
The scandal, first reported by the Hurriyet daily, comes amid growing accusations by opponents that the authorities are turning a blind eye to underage marriage and sex.
According to Hurriyet, the Suleyman the Magnificent Training and Research Hospital in Istanbul failed to fulfil their legal obligation to inform the authorities while treating 115 underage pregnancies.
It said that this took place from January to May last year. 39 of the girls treated were Syrian nationals.
The case had been exposed by a whistle-blower who was working at the hospital as a social worker and psychologist and was later moved on to other jobs, it said.
The age of consent in Turkey is 18 and hospitals are obliged to inform the authorities when children are conceived to mothers below that age.
After an order by Family and Social Affairs Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya “an immediate investigation has been ordered into the claims,” her ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said it was continuing with “determination” a campaign to fight against the practice of child marriage which the authorities admit is still a problem especially in rural Turkey.
“It is the duty of all of us to protect children from all kinds of bad things. We will follow this investigation up to the end,” it added.
Turkish Health Minister Ahmet Demircan also announced an investigation, saying “this is not a situation of which we can approve”.
“The issue will be investigated and we will share the results,” he told the CNN-Turk channel, saying the probe would expose whether there had been neglect on the part of the local authorities.
The scandal provoked outrage on social media where some users formed a hashtag #115CocugaIstismariOrtemezsin (you can’t cover up the abuse of 115 children).
The opposition and womens’ rights activists have repeatedly accused the ruling Justice and Development Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of failing to do enough to protect women.
The latest controversy broke out in January when the Diyanet religious affairs directorate said girls as young as nine could marry under Islamic law.
The agency later distanced itself from the statement.
In 2016, the government was forced to throw out a bill that could have pardoned men convicted of child-sex assault after a public outcry.