Forgotten and overworked children in Turkey
While I was watching the enthusiasm of our beloved children during the April 23 Children’s Day celebrations on TV, a deep concern started to form inside me: What if the adults and the authorities go through a crisis of sincerity? What if all the truth spills out?
As April 23 Children’s Day has once again passed for another year, shall we look at the statistics that are often overlooked in the enthusiasm of the celebrations?
Our guide will be the “Our Children and the Truths” report, prepared by the Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim-Sen). The report says there has been no progress, but rather regression, on the issue of children’s welfare in Turkey compared to previous years.
For example, many girls are led to home schooling instead of attending a school. Of those who are receiving “distance learning” at the secondary education level, girls consist of 62 percent. According to Education Ministry data, girls make up 97.4 percent of those who cannot continue their education due to “marriage and engagement.”
According to Turkish Statistics Institute (TÜİK) data, in the last 10 years 482,908 girls have gotten married with the permission of the state. In the last six years 142,298 have become child mothers.
The Eğitim-Sen report is full of such depressing data, based on registered, official figures. I leave it down to you to decide if these figures reflect the whole iceberg or just the tip of it.
“According to criminal records, child abuse cases have seen an increase of 50 percent in the last five years … One in every six boys is exposed to sexual abuse and 70 percent of the boys sexually abused are aged below 11. Some 46 percent of sexual abuse cases in Turkey are conducted against children. According to the Justice Ministry’s 2015 data, 17,000 sexual abuses cases are opened every year on average, and 45 percent of these cases do not come to a conclusion,” the report states.
In sum, we are the third worst country in the world in terms of child sexual abuse.
We are also not much better in the issue of child labor exploitation. “Eight in 10 working children are unregistered. The number of child workers aged between 15 and 17 was 601,000 in 2012, rising to 709,000 in 2016,” states the Eğitim-Sen report.
According to the Education Ministry’s September 2017 data, of 976,000 Syrian refugee children of school age, only 54.5 percent are registered at school. There are around 450,000 Syrian children who are not attending school.
These children do not even know what childhood is but their lives and labor are being exploited. Let me quote the final paragraph of a recent news report: “The 10-year-old Ali is working 13 hours per day at a shoe factory in İzmir. His father and grandfather lost their lives back in Syria. Ali, who earns just 100 Turkish Liras ($25) per week, says: ‘I’m trying to support my family.’”
Think about it: We cannot offer an education to them. We shut our eyes to the fact that they are worked like slaves at farms, factories and construction sites. We cannot protect them from being sexually abused. We are killing their childhoods. And then we sermonize about it. We still ask: “How did the world get this way?”