552 kids mark Children’s Day in Turkish prisons with their mothers

Turkey is celebrating National Sovereignty and Children’s Day with a total of 552 children under the age of six accompanying their mothers in prisons, according to 2023 data from the Justice Ministry, Turkish Minute reported.

Today marks the 104th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish parliament, on April 23, 1920, declared National Sovereignty and Children’s Day by the nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The number of children accompanying their mothers in prison skyrocketed in Turkey in the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, when thousands of women were arrested due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Elif Esen, deputy chair of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), who visited children staying behind bars with their mothers in Ankara’s Sincan Prison and İstanbul’s Silivri Prison on the occasion of Children’s Day, told the Gazete Duvar news website that children who accompany their mothers in Turkish prisons are deprived of basic necessities.

Esen said she has identified specific areas of concern regarding children in Turkish prisons, which she said she will bring together in a report and send to the ministers of justice and family and social services.

She said inter-ministry coordination, legislation and civil society support would play a crucial role in addressing the needs and problems related to children in prisons.

One of the main problems identified by Esen is that many women in prison are not aware of their legal rights. She said most of them are unaware that there is financial support available from the state for relatives of children who should be released from prison after the age of six, if they are placed with relatives, and that recent legislation has extended the ability of incarcerated women to breastfeed their children from six to 18 months.

The DEVA deputy chair also said that if both parents are in the same prison, the child can also see the father. She pointed out that due to overcrowding, some women are sent to prisons in other cities, fat from their families, noting that this situation could be addressed by transferring single or childless women prisoners instead of mothers.

She said the root cause of the problems leading to children staying in prison lies in the deep poverty in Turkey that drives people to crime.

“We can’t protect our children if we don’t break the cycle of poverty and deprivation with protective and preventive measures … because the conditions are pushing these people into crime,” she said.

A report published by the Civil Society in the Penal System (CİSST) in April 2022 also found that children who accompany their mothers in Turkish prisons were deprived of basic necessities.

“Children are cut off from the outside world, and they cannot participate in social and cultural activities,” the report said. “This is detrimental for their physical and mental wellbeing and will cause problems in connecting with society later in life.”

Previous reports have also underlined that Turkish prisons do not accommodate the needs of children and infants. Most prisons do not provide crayons, toys or carpets for crawling babies. Many children do not have their own beds and share their mothers’ food.

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