A Turkish bill that would clear men of statutory rape provided they marry the victim is on the receiving end of criticism from opposition groups that are accusing the government of legitimizing child sexual assault.

The bill received preliminary backing in the parliament Thursday and is due for a second round of voting after a debate next week. Proposed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the bill would clear those convicted of assault only if they had sex without “force, threat, or any other restriction on consent” and if they marry the victim.

Violence against women is on the rise in Turkey with nearly 40 percent of cases of sexual and physical abuse reported. Murder of women has also increased by 1,400 percent from 2003 to 2010. The legal age of consent in the country is 18 years but child marriage is widespread.

According to the BBC, the government has said the aim of the bill “is not to excuse rape but to rehabilitate those who may not have realized their sexual relations were unlawful - or to prevent girls who have sex under the age of 18 from feeling ostracized by their community.”

Critics, which include the opposition, celebrities, an association whose deputy chairman is Erdoğan’s daughter, are worried that the bill – which if passed is likely to quash nearly 3,000 convictions – would also legitimize child marriage in addition to overlooking child sexual assault.

“The AKP is pushing through a text which pardons those who marry the child that they raped,” Ozgur Ozel, a lawmaker belonging to the opposition Republican People’s Party reportedly said.

“What we are talking about is not being a woman in this country, or being a man, but staying a human being,” Turkish celebrity Nurgül Yeşilçay said. Protesters took to the streets in Istanbul tearing up copies of the bill and raising slogans like “rape is a crime against humanity.”

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the pardon would be applied only once on past convictions and would cover only those offences committed before Nov. 11, 2016.

 “There are people who get married before reaching the legal age. They just don’t know the law,” he said and added that the proposed bill is aimed at getting “rid of this injustice.” He accused of the opposition of exploiting the issue for political gain adding that the government had raised the penalties for child rape. He also dismissed the notion that the bill would “legalize” rape calling such ideas “completely false.”

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ also stood by the bill saying child marriage was an “unfortunately a reality” in the country and the men involved “were not rapists of sexual aggressors.”