Who will defend our child workers?
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to child rights. The youngest winner of the prize, Malala Yousafzai, is a personality who has risked her life for the education of girls.
The person who shared the prize with Malala, Kailash Satyarthi, has been fighting against child labor in India and the entire world since 1980. We had not heard his name before he got the Nobel Prize, but Satyarthi was six years old when he saw a child his own age shining shoes with his father when he understood the mercilessness of the world.
He set up the “Save the Childhood Movement” in 1980, becoming the hope of hundreds of thousands of children working in heavy labor in India. He is also one of the leaders of the “Global March against Child Labor” movement founded in the 1990s.
The Turkey Progress Report 2014 was issued by the European Commission three days before Yousafzai and Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize. It had a section pointing out to child labor and violations of child rights in our country; however, this section did not attract as much attention as the other sections of the report.
In fact, child labor is one of Turkey’s important issues. In 2013, the number of child workers who have lost their lives in labor-related accidents was 71.
According to the latest data, in the first nine months of 2014, among the 1,414 workers who have lost their lives in occupational accidents, 42 of them are “child workers.”
The Heinrich Böll Stiftung Association’s Perspectives Magazine’s October issue has remarkable information in its “Children of New Turkey” file about child labor, child brides (one out of three marriages in Turkey are child marriages) and street children.
Ertan Karabıyık, who has conducted studies on child labor and especially with children who are mobile agriculture workers, shared the latest data on child labor. According to this, 5.9 percent of the children in the age group 6 to 17, in other words 893,000 children, are employed in economic jobs. About 400,000 of these children work in agriculture, 217,000 in industry and 277,000 in the service sector.
I can add my own observation here: With Syrian refugees that exceed 1.5 million, I am guessing that the number of child workers in Turkey is much higher than the figure 893,000 Ertan Karabıyık has given.
I remember seeing in Gaziantep last year at this time that several restaurants have small Syrian children working for them. I believe the situation has worsened since then.
If we go back to Karabıyık’s study, the average daily working time is 10 hours for children in seasonal agriculture work.
Field work has revealed results that paint this severe picture: In Şanlıurfa, children working in cotton fields work 11.35 hours a day, while it’s 9.97 hours in Yozgat’s beet fields, 9.6 hours in Adana-Mersin’s vegetable fields and 9.19 hours in Ordu’s hazelnut groves.
In the agriculture sector, children work an average of 6.17 days a week. Despite their young age, they have no idea of a concept like the weekend.
In his study, Karabıyık has determined the negative effects of seasonal agriculture labor on hundreds of thousands of children in alarming dimensions. This is also a factor that prevents this many children from continuing their compulsory education.
In India, Satyarthi has defended the rights of about 80,000 child workers and saved them from the situation they were trapped in.
In Turkey, 893,000 children are working in several key sectors. Isn’t there one heroic personality in this country to defend the rights of these child workers?