2012-04-23

Turkey marks Children’s Day

Every year, both solemn ceremonies and festivals take place throughout Turkey on April 23rd to mark Children’s Day.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 23/04/12

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While some lucky children take seats in the Turkish Parliament to symbolically govern the country just for one day, others confront overwhelming problems on a daily basis, and are usually too fragile to cope with all the burdens placed on their small shoulders.

  • Child advocates hope the new constitution -- being drafted this year -- will offer more protection to children. [Reuters]

    Child advocates hope the new constitution -- being drafted this year -- will offer more protection to children. [Reuters]

Chief among them are the early marriages. According to the Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies' data, the rate -- defined as marriage below 18 years of age-- is 28% on average.

Selen Dogan, of the civic organisation Flying Broom, describes the situation in Turkey as infernal for child brides. “Because of the patriarchal structure of Turkish society which observes closely its customs, this problem never ends and is becoming much more acute each day,” Dogan told SES Türkiye.

However, with a number of projects -- one of the most successful the Child Brides project of Flying Broom -- public awareness of this issue is growing. According to Dogan, in traditional Turkish families, girls are seen as temporary members, inclined to leave the house as soon as they marry.

“So, they are considered as “property” of their father, and then their husbands. Also to protect the honour of the family and to make some money by demanding a “bride price” (baslik parasi), the parents want to marry their children quickly,” Dogan explained.

Another problem stems from child employment, especially informally. This can mean working the streets, sometimes as garbage collectors, in extreme cases as sex slaves -- despite stronger laws.

While there is no official data on the exact percentage of child labour in Turkey, the estimate is 960,000 cases. The new educational bill, extending the duration of compulsory education from 8 to 12 and emphasising the role of vocational high schools, is expected to help lower this number.

One expert on this issue, Associate Professor Hakan Acar of Kocaeli University, thinks that the compulsory primary education in Turkey, coupled with campaigns conducted by the relevant ministries up to now, have had a positive impact in reducing the incidence of child labour, although it remains a persistent problem.

“The official controls over industrial and service sectors should be made more frequent. And the schooling process should be sustainable because as long as those children go to school, this problem will be automatically removed,” he told SES Türkiye.

Child labour is also linked to widespread poverty among children. According to Burge Akbulut, from the Istanbul-based Humanist Bureau, 1 out of 4 children in Turkey is living below the poverty level, while 1 out of 2 children between the ages of 15 and 17 is employed doing household chores, such as gardening or carpentry.

“Up to now, local authorities haven’t taken enough precautions to fight the problems of children, although it also falls under their responsibilities,” Akbulut told SES Türkiye.

According to her, the media also has a critical responsibility. “When a child victim is shown in the media, it is a responsibility to inform the audience about what should be done in similar circumstances, in order to increase societal awareness,” she explained.

Children in Turkey are also at the centre of a constitutional process. The referendum of September 2010 provided a constitutional guarantee against the discrimination of children. Yet the Child Foundation of Turkey published in April an exhaustive “Child Constitution”, highlighting the need to include articles about children in the new constitution, which is expected to be drafted later this year. Deficiencies concerning children’s rights -- from child abuse to abandoned babies -- are expected to be brought to the public agenda with this process.

The fundamental target of the Child Foundation is to make children visible within the constitution. “The previous constitutions considered children as objects and did not include their rights in an integrated manner,” the constitution report says. To address this, there will be children councils held throughout Turkey in the months ahead, where children will discuss their problems and describe what they expect from the new constitution. During this process, they will be in constant contact and dialogue with MPs. The aim is to design a "child-friendly" constitution: one that is short, with clear wording understandable also by children, and which addresses the problems of this segment of society.

“We submitted our Child Constitution report to the head of the Turkish Parliament, Cemil Cicek. And we are now making preparations for a country-wide social responsibility project to [gather] the opinions of all children throughout Turkey,” Mustafa Ruhi Sirin, founder of the Child Foundation, explained to SES Türkiye.

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