Girls as young as 12 conceived babies: Social worker whistleblower İclal Nergiz

Girls as young as 12 conceived babies: Social worker whistleblower İclal Nergiz

She is a pathfinder, just like Saadet Özkan, a Turkish teacher whose actions led to the arrest of a principal for sexually abusing six girls between the ages of six and 11. 

She is brave, resolved and totally confident that she is right.

She never gives up or gives in.

Social worker İclal Nergiz, who notified a prosecutor’s office about an Istanbul hospital’s failure to report 115 underage pregnant girls to authorities, was even accused of treason.

This issue should not be covered up.

This is one of the country’s most important problems, but it is overlooked. Just like Nergiz, we will continue to keep a close eye on this.

“I am 32 years old. I graduated from the department of social works at Hacettepe University. I worked at Kanuni Sultan Süleyman Training and Research Hospital in Istanbul since July 2012 as a social worker,” she said.

But after the scandal broke out, she was appointed to a public mental health center dealing mostly with schizophrenic patients.

She considers her appointment to another post as “an exile,” a form of punishment. “By appointing me to another post, they said: “See, we are the authority here, we have the power.” But I will not lose heart. I like working with schizophrenic patients,” she said.

Pregnant girls with no civil marriage

Nergiz told me that underage pregnancies first caught her attention when she was working at the medical social works department back in May 2017. Prior to that, she had worked at a child monitoring center which opened in May 2014. But she was appointed to the medical social works department, because “apparently the people there did not like the fact that I was working very hard,” she said sarcastically.

“I was involved in a project carried out jointly with Istanbul’s provincial gendarmerie command. We were visiting villages to educate kids about sexual abuse. But a deputy chief physician, who did not want to keep me in the project anymore, replaced me with another social worker. But I realized that an underage pregnancy case was not reported to the authorities,” Nergiz said.

So, Nergiz wanted to know why the case was not reported, but could not get any answers. She made an official report and talked to Mr. Akif, the deputy chief physician, who told her “she was digging into this issue too much.”

He also told her that in fact a report was prepared regarding the case. But that only made her ask even more questions. She wondered why she was not informed about the report the deputy chief physician mentioned.

“Then I realized that several underage pregnant girls, aged 18, 16 or even 15, were coming to the hospital. And almost all those girls had visited our hospital before. They talked to the people at the social works department but those underage pregnancy cases had not been reported to the authorities for years!” she said. 

Nergiz noted that those girls were not officially married but they said they had religious marriage ceremonies.

According to her, some of those girls had given birth to more than one child. “There was this little Syrian girl. Her story still haunts me. She gave birth to her second child at the age of 16. At that time her first child was four years old. She was 12 when she first conceived a child,” Nergiz said.

No regrets 

Despite all the troubles she went through, Nergiz has no regrets. On the contrary, she thinks could have done more. “I wish I had looked into the underage pregnancy cases dating before 2016. I absolutely never regretted my decision, not for a single day,” she told me.

“The hospital officials think that I betrayed my country and that I destroyed the hospital’s reputation. That’s how they see it. They want to intimidate me,” Nergiz said, adding that she feels like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Despite all the directives issued by the Health Ministry that all underage pregnancies must be reported to the authorities, the hospital did not do that and it went unpunished.

Asked why they do not report such cases, Nergiz said: “They do not care! And that is the problem. According to their beliefs, it is normal for an underage girl to have a baby. My conservative estimate is that the hospital treated at least 115 underage pregnant girls. Given the fact that some doctors never report such cases to the social services unit, the real figure is much much higher.”

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