Almost 400,000 seasonal child agricultural laborers in fields across Turkey in 2012: Study

Almost 400,000 seasonal child agricultural laborers in fields across Turkey in 2012: Study

Gülseven Özkan
Almost 400,000 seasonal child agricultural laborers in fields across Turkey in 2012: Study Hundreds of thousands of children across Turkey are working in agriculture, with the latest official figure from five years ago citing the number at 400,000. Experts say the real figure is much higher when Syrian refugee children are included.

There are almost 400,000 seasonal child agricultural laborers across Turkey, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) stated in 2012. 

The number of child agricultural workers reportedly reached a huge scale during the six-and-a-half-year civil war in Syria, after Syrians who fled to Turkey took shelter from the war-torn country.

UNICEF Ambassador to Turkey Philippe Duamelle said there were 850,000 child workers, including 400,000 agricultural laborers in Turkey, during a meeting named “Child Rights and Labor Relations,” held by the Confederation of Turkish Tradesmen and Craftsmen (TESK) in July.

However, 22,414 of the child agricultural laborers were registered for school, according to Turkish National Education Minister İsmet Yılmaz.    

One of the child agricultural laborers, 17-year-old Azize Şengel, who is one of 12 siblings, said she worked over the entire summer holiday.

“No rest for us. I will prepare for university, but I have not even been able to open a book yet. If monetary need and home expenses arise for my siblings, then I will be out of school tuition. When I return to school, my friends talk about their vacation and I feel sad. But I am proud to have worked since I was 11 years old and I do not need anyone. I want to be a painting teacher,” she said.

Azize’s brother, Mahsun, said he was obliged to quit school and he had cried a lot when he had left.
“I have so many siblings. So, I had to leave school. I go to the fields in summer. I look after the animals in winter. I cried a lot when I left school, but I have been working like this since I was 10 years old. We have to. If I continue school, maybe I would become a lawyer,” he said.

There are also some child agricultural laborers who have managed to attend university. Kübra Demir, 20, is one of them.

Demir is also one of 12 siblings and is registered at the European University of Lefke’s Mouth and Teeth Health Department in northern Cyprus with a full scholarship.

“I finished high school this year and I have been working in the fields since the beginning of this summer. My other siblings are married. I am taking care of my parents. I start work at 7:00 a.m. and work until 5:00 p.m. I make between 40 and 45 Turkish Liras per day. I pick tomatoes, peppers and grapes. I am happy to support them. I am not a burden on them and I am proud of it. I want to become a professional by successfully completing my studies,” she said.