ANKARA: Turkey marked National Sovereignty and Children’s Day on April 23, at a time when child poverty and child labor still rank as the main problems among the country’s younger population.
There are 22.7 million children in Turkey and at least one-third face chronic poverty, with the COVID-19 pandemic deepening their deprivation.
Around 3,000 children are currently in prison with their mothers, according to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and 800 of them are below the age of three.
The CHP released a report on April 23 saying that 232 children had committed suicide in Turkey in 2019, mainly due to socioeconomic problems. The same report said around 7.5 million children were deprived of the conditions that were needed to support their physical and psychological development.
“The government doesn’t search for the reasons behind these suicide rates. The age of drug addiction has decreased to the ages below 15,” the report added.
Figures from the state-run statistics agency, TUIK, showed that 16.2 percent of children in the 15-17 age group were currently part of the workforce. But activists said official statistics did not reflect the reality on the ground and that the number of working children was far greater considering Turkey’s vast informal economy.
“In order to stop child labor exploitation, there is a need to forbid children below 18 from working or being used as free labor forces as apprentices,” CHP lawmaker Veli Agbaba said.
Seda Akco, a lawyer and children’s rights advocate, believed the main reason for the increase in child poverty and child labor was the country’s rising poverty levels as well as unsustainable livelihoods among poor and vulnerable groups.
Turkey’s monthly minimum wage is TRY2,800 ($334.22) while the hunger limit, or monthly food expenditure, for a family of four is TRY2,735, pushing families to get their children into earning a living.
“Under such circumstances, children face real challenges in access to education, sufficient nutrition and other development needs,” Akco told Arab News. “Child poverty and child labor need a governmental effort to raise minimum wages and provide people with social and economic support.”
During the pandemic, about 6 million children in Turkey lacked access to remote learning due to scant financial resources and infrastructure challenges.
Experts said the pandemic widened the educational gap between children based on their economic status, as millions of students had difficulty accessing the internet while others did not even have a television at home.
The number of early marriages also rose during the pandemic. Last year, around 13,000 girls below the age of 18 got married in Turkey, ranking the country top in Europe for child marriage.