Child labor on the rise in Turkey amid Syrian refugee influx

Child labor on the rise in Turkey amid Syrian refugee influx

Gülseven Özkan / Esra Ülkar – ISTANBUL
Child labor on the rise in Turkey amid Syrian refugee influx Experts have expressed alarm that the already high figure of child laborers in Turkey, which numbered almost 1 million in 2012, has been increasing, as millions of Syrian refugees try to earn a living after crossing the border into Turkey.

A total of 893,000 children between the ages of 6 and 17 were working in 2012, according to data released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK) four years ago, whereas a joint report prepared by international humanitarian aid agency Support to Life and the Istanbul Bilgi University’s Center for Migration Research warned that the figure could be much higher today as Syrian refugee children join the shadow economy.

According to the report, the main problems experienced by child laborers were a lack of access to education, a slow-down of physical and psychological development, physical harm induced by the nature of their work, harassment, exploitation and neglect.

The 75-page report stated that half of Turkey’s 17 million citizens who lived below the poverty line were children, while at least 400,000 of the country’s child laborers worked away from their homes as seasonal workers. 

While no precise figure could be provided, the study cited “observations” that more and more Syrian children had started working unofficially, especially as seasonal workers. 

In a pilot study conducted by Turkey’s Labor and Social Security Ministry across five Turkish provinces, a total of 2,194 child laborers were designated. However, only 27 businesses were fined for hiring child laborers in 2015, down from 49 in 2013. 

Official figures suggested there were 2,621,000 registered Syrians in Turkey, including 1,420,340 children. 

Some 330,000 of 830,000 school-aged Syrian children were given formal education at state schools in Turkey, then-Education Minister Nabi Avcı announced at the 25th Session of the Council of Europe Conference of Education Ministers on April 11. 

Previously, the head of Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), Fuat Oktay, said only 30 percent of school-aged Syrians had access to education in Turkey, in line with Avcı’s remarks. 

Meanwhile, some 168 million children are still used for child labor worldwide, according to the International Labor Organization’s statement for World Day against Child Labor, which is marked on June 12 each year.

This year’s theme focused on the need to end child labor in supply chains and the ILO underlined that poverty, a lack of freedom of organization and financial difficulties at family-owned businesses stood out as the leading reasons for illegally employing children.