Children should be protected as individuals, not victims, amid armed conflicts: Lawyer
Öykü Altuntaş / ISTANBUL - Doğan News Agency
Local residents stand in the ruins of a house damaged in the operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants, in Turkey's southeastern Silopi district. AFP PhotoChildren’s status as individuals and right owners should be recognized amid ongoing armed conflicts in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern provinces, Humanist Bureau co-founder Seda Akço has said.
“The child-state relationship is different,” said Akço, a lawyer who works on children’s rights, adding that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was created “to protect the value of childhood and children.”
Akço added that children were “objectified” in conflict as a result of having been considered “victims” in legal terms. According to Akço, liabilities of the U.N. treaty and special rights stemming from child’s status have not been recognized in Turkey. “Children and childhood have been under a full scale attack. This scares me,” she said.
The Humanist Bureau has released a report entitled “Situation of Children Affected by Armed Conflicts,” reiterating Turkey’s responsibilities under UNCRC Article 38 and the “Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.” Article 38 ensures the “liability of all state parties to protect children within international humanitarian law and meet all basic needs.”
Tisdall: Children affected by armed conflict the most
A professor of childhood policy, Kay Tisdall from the University of Edinburgh, works on children’s rights and legislation. She explained to Doğan News Agency the importance of Article 38.
“When adults go to war, it is frequently children who are the worst affected by it,” and it is this article that attempts to make its signatories responsible for children’s wellbeing in conflict, she said. “This [responsibility] applies to all children up to the age of 18, whatever their role in the hostilities and without discrimination,” she added.
“The [UNCRC] is the most ratified of all human rights treaties and we have an international and local obligation to meet its requirements to uphold children’s human rights in war and armed conflict,” Tisdall said.
According to the Humanist Bureau report, clashes in Turkey have been occurring in residential areas, thus killing and injuring a significant number of children, and causing many others to lose body parts. Meanwhile, “children witness their parents’, siblings’ and relatives’ death and sometimes have to live in the same place with their deceased bodies for some time,” added the report.
Children in curfew areas “have to survive for days without access to basic needs, including food and clean water and face difficulties in accessing primary health care,” even though they struggle with mental and physical illnesses, according to the report.
The report also stated that in the second half of 2015, at least 58 children were reported dead, while 56 others were reported injured. “Children’s rights to live, education and health should be protected,” it reiterated.
Children should be excluded from clashes in areas where security operations are conducted, said Akço.
“Article 38 includes liabilities of parties to avoid recruiting children to armed forces, as they should not take a direct part in the hostilities,” Akço added. “Also, states and organizations should not consider children as warring factions and intervene by punishing them or taking them captive, even if those children have already joined somehow. They should be treated as children,” she said.
How can children be protected from the environment of clashes dominating their living spaces, then?
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child suggests “opening a safe corridor to evacuate children from the area, after having receiving the consent of their families” and “launching a corridor to ease humanitarian aid’s access to these children,” Akço said.
“Accordingly, it is the state’s responsibility to assure children’s access to basic needs such as food, medical treatment and education. The state should also prevent attacks over schools and hospitals by laws,” she added.
Akço also urged the creation of a cooperative platform where potential concrete solutions, mechanisms against violations of rights and problems regarding services could be discussed.
She called on top bodies including the U.N., the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as well as the international community to take action if obligations are not met by its signatories.
‘Legal proceedings will not stop child deaths either’
According to Akço, although the European Court of Human Rights evaluates the U.N. Committee’s report on states, legal proceedings will not stop child deaths either.
“Children’s demands and opinions should be recognized as they are individuals and subjects who are living in these regions themselves” she told, underlining the importance of their will.
‘Behavioral disorder and crime’ common effects
“This is a threat expanding time wise. War and armed conflicts have renowned effects including post-traumatic stress disorders, behavioral disorder and tendency to commit crimes,” Akço said. She added that these issues can affect children residing outside curfew or conflict areas, children of parents on duty and other children across Turkey who are witnessing violence through mediums such as television.
“Children are not a side of this fight. All sides are obliged to protect legal status of child,” she said.
On the other hand, “the liability of the state is greater because children can only make concrete and legal requests from the state, to which they are tied to as citizens,” Akço stated.
From ‘1990s’ outcome’ to ‘2015’s aftermath’
Akço urged that all sides should foresee and prevent potential harmful effects on children, from emotional, physical and sexual abuse in war, natural disasters and social and individual crisis situations.
“Even after children’s lives normalize, risks including exploitation of child labor and school drop outs should be prevented; children should not start living on streets,” she noted.
“We are currently saying, ‘These are the results of what happened during 1990s. In ten years, we will speak of childhood problems, under the title of ‘results of 2015.’ And all these things are issues that we can predict and prevent,” she said.