Turkey marks Children’s Day as pandemic adds to challenges, rights abuses facing youngsters

Two children collecting garbage pull their cart on a street in Ankara on January 12, 2021. Adem ALTAN / AFP

Turkey is celebrating National Sovereignty and Children’s Day in an environment worsened by the coronavirus pandemic in which dozens of minors have died in work-related accidents, access to education has significantly declined for thousands and hundreds were behind bars last year, Turkish Minute reported.

On Friday Turkey marked the 101st 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.

Turkish media said reports and statistics regarding children in Turkey in the last few years reveal the country’s deteriorating track record of children’s rights.

According to a report from Turkey’s Health and Safety Labor Watch (İSİG), 68 minors – 22 of them under the age of 14 – died in occupational accidents in 2020. The number has climbed to 328, including 106 children under the age of 14, within the last five years, data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) showed.

TurkStat also revealed in a survey this week that 16.2 percent of more than 22.7 million children in Turkey were working, primarily to contribute to household income.

The Statistical Office of the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality on Friday said in a report titled “Children of İstanbul 2021” that 13,740 minors, 13,014 of them girls, got married in Turkey last year.

The adolescent birth rate in Turkey, which is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the age-specific fertility rate for women aged 15-19, was 8.3 per 1,000 women in that age group in the same period, the report also indicated.

Another report released by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairperson Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi on Friday showed that the number of children living in poverty in Turkey exceeded 7.4 million in 2019, which corresponds to over 30 percent of children in the country.

According to a 2020 report by the Civil Society in the Penal System Association (CİSST), Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was holding around 3,000 minors in pretrial detention, disregarding the presumption of innocence and depriving them of the right to an education.

Although the actual number of children accompanying their mothers in prison is unknown, it is believed that it reaches into the hundreds. The Rights Initiative Association (Hak İnsiyatifi) said there were 780 children in prison with their mothers as of November 2019.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrest of mothers with babies has been a cause for more concern among activists and critics because quarantine wards are notorious for their poor conditions and overcrowding.

Cases of child sexual abuse have also hit record levels in Turkey in recent years, with 22,689 child abuse cases launched in 2019, a significant increase over the 18,209 in 2018, statistics from Turkey’s Ministry of Justice showed.

However, this increase was accompanied by a drop in the number of convictions handed down by the courts. According to the ministry data, the number of rulings including convictions dropped from 59.6 percent to 55 percent of total cases in 2019.

According to local media reports, complaints of child abuse incidents have doubled since the closure of schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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