UNICEF Global     TR

1.1 Purpose of the Analysis: This Analysis aims to describe the well-being of children in Turkey, to analyse how far they are able to enjoy the rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to contribute to the determination of policies and practices that will improve child well-being in the future.

The Analysis also seeks, as far as possible, to describe the situation of all young people, whether under the age of eighteen – and therefore within the protection of the Convention – or over the age of eighteen, yet still making the transition from childhood to adulthood.

Turkey’s end-2011 population of 74.7 million included about 23 million citizens under eighteen, and about 12.5 million in the 15-24 age group. The 0-24 age group includes 31.4 million people. Although the growth of the population has started to slow down, children and young people will continue to account for a much higher proportion of the population in Turkey than in the “developed” countries for many years to come.

1.2 Achievements: Turkey is an upper middle-income country with stable institutions and widespread public services. Most of its children grow up in a caring family environment, have access to food, shelter and other essential goods, and benefit from basic services, such as health and schooling, which are provided mainly in the public sector. Turkey’s main achievements for children and child rights can be summarised as follows:

Child survival, health and well-being: Infant and under-five mortality has declined rapidly in recent years, and infant mortality may now be in single figures (i.e. less than 1% of all children born alive die before their first birthday). Similar achievements have been registered in vaccination. Social spending, particularly on health, has started to increase. Turkey has introduced a family medicine system and free health insurance for all children. A network of family counsellors is proposed, to improve access to social assistance and protection.

Early childhood development:  Parenting education programmes have been introduced, preschool education has seen rapid expansion, and a community-based model has been developed for preschool and child day care. Having lowered the school starting age to 60 months as of 2012, the government is targeting 100% enrolment in preschool education for four year-olds. Turkey has also pioneered development paediatric units for early identification of development delays.

Education: Parents place a high value on education and children like school. With the aid of improved monitoring, social mobilisation campaigns and benefits like cash transfers and free schoolbooks, net enrolment in eight-year primary education for 6-14 year-olds has risen to over 98% for girls as well as boys. Net enrolment in four-year secondary education has risen to 67% and gross enrolment to 93%. As of 2012, the government has made four-year secondary education compulsory. Enrolment in tertiary education has also increased.

Child rights monitoring and child participation: Turkey is a party to most international child rights treaties. Child rights are also upheld by the Constitution and numerous laws. There is a child rights sub-committee in Parliament and child rights committees in the provinces. A Child Rights Monitoring and Assessment Board was established in 2012. An ombudsperson institution is being established including a deputy ombudsperson for women’s and children’s rights.

Child protection: Various institutional arrangements, service models and standards have been introduced to protect children from exploitation, violence, abuse and neglect, particularly after the Child Protection Law of 2005. These aim to prevent rights abuses, to bring them to light and/or to provide victims with the right form of protection, treatment or rehabilitation. Children on the street, children without parental care, children in the justice and penal systems and child victims of sexual abuse and other crimes have benefited.

International contribution: In recent years, Turkey has begun to make a significant contribution to humanitarian and development efforts beyond its borders, with benefits for children and young people as well as adult women and men in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Official bilateral and multilateral overseas development assistance amounted to over US$700m in 2009, according to the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA). Turkish NGOs are also active in this field.

The Syria crisis: In 2011-12, tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing violence were allowed to enter Turkey. As of October 2012, over 100,000 were being accommodated and their basic needs met in well-run, high-quality camps. Education was being provided for children, who made up about a third of the camp population. Turkey was also distributing food and other basic needs to thousands of people on the Syrian side of the border. Turkish spending on the emergency so far was put at over 500,000 US dollars.

1.3 Outstanding issues: While Turkey’s national income has grown, opportunities are not evenly spread among the population. There are significant inequalities in terms of material well-being and levels of education. Gender inequality is very marked. Social safety nets are limited. Some public services are relatively undeveloped while others are uneven in coverage and quality. Human rights are not always well understood and respected. All of these circumstances have serious – and sometimes dramatic – consequences for Turkey’s girls and boys:

Poverty: Up to a quarter of children are living in relative poverty, and many more may be at risk in the event of an economic downturn. Poverty is higher among children than among adults. Children with relatively under-educated parents are most likely to be poor. Girls and boys experiencing material poverty are also the most likely to experience other physical and social deprivations and risks such as malnutrition, poor health, child labour, school non-attendance, lack of Internet access or leisure and socialisation opportunities, violence or family separation, and even death or injury due to natural disasters. The effects of poverty on children have been shown to last throughout their lives and go on to affect their own children.

Nutrition: Despite improvements in child nutrition, 10% of Turkey’s children are stunted, meaning that they are of low height for their age and at risk of further health and development problems. Micronutrient deficiencies are also significant. Breastfeeding is widespread but rarely exclusive for the first six months of life.

Child labour: Some of the worst forms of child labour continue to be observed in Turkey, depriving children of their rights to health and development, putting them at risk and compromising their futures. Girls and boys continue to engage in migratory seasonal agricultural labour, to work on the streets and to perform repetitive and/or dangerous tasks in small enterprises in industry and services.

Participation in education: Some children, especially girls, drop out of primary school or do not attend regularly for reasons like poverty and/or child labour, conservative social norms, domestic responsibilities, low expectations or adaptation problems. The recent lowering of the school starting age to 60 months and the division of primary education into two phases may increase non-participation via late starting, lack of school readiness or failure to make the transition between the phases. In secondary education, there are significant inter-regional, urban-rural, socioeconomic and gender discrepancies in enrolment, and non-attendance is common, for reasons which include the need for children to earn income or work in the home, and discouragement.

Quality of education: Tests and observation suggest that a high proportion of school children fail to realise their full potential. Problems range from the impact of multi-choice examinations and cramming schools to the lack of a child-centred approach and child participation. There are wide disparities from place to place and school to school in the quality of education and the educational environment.

Emerging health issues: While the public health system has been largely successful in addressing infant and child mortality and communicable diseases, the new family medicine system has limited ability to monitor and prevent development delays, accidents, injuries, nutrition problems, non-communicable diseases and mental health within a holistic approach.

Children without parental care: In spite of a policy of deinstitutionalisation and family support, concern continues to be expressed from time to time about the quality of care provided for children whose parents have died or are unable, unwilling or unfit to look after them.

Violence: Most boys and girls encounter some form of violence, abuse, exploitation or neglect, depending partly on their age, sex and social background. Violence may be perpetrated by adults or other children at home, in and around school, or in the community. Sexual abuse, particularly for girls, is rightly a cause of public concern. These problems have not yet been fully acknowledge or addressed.

Children in contact with the law: Despite much reform, the treatment of children who come into contact with the law is still often out of line with international standards. Many children are tried in adult courts. Long periods of pre-trial detention are common. Conditions in detention are sometimes very poor. Child victims can still face secondary victimisation.

Adolescent health: Adolescents’ knowledge of reproductive health appears to be very limited, partly due to social taboos. Young people may also be in need of more information and services with respect to other health issues and risks, such as drug addiction.

Youth engagement and participation: Adolescents and young people are often not well understood and trusted by parents or society. Children are not brought up to express opinions or take decisions for themselves and as young people they may be severely discouraged from doing so. Opportunities for personal and social development, leisure, sport and information can be insufficient. For reasons associated with tradition, the activities of adolescent girls are restricted to varying degrees in all parts of society.

Early and forced marriage: There is a persistent and largely-unaddressed problem of early and forced marriage among teenage girls. This infringes their reproductive health rights, paves the way for risky fertility practices like early childbirth and multiple pregnancies, causes them to withdraw from education and begin to labour as housewives before they are physically, emotionally and socially mature, exposes them to domestic violence, and exacerbates the cycle of poverty.

Honour crimes: Cases of honour killings and forced suicides continue to be reported in some sections of society. The victims are usually young women – and sometimes adolescent girls - who are deemed to have damaged their family’s “honour” by infringing highly conservative standards for female public behaviour.

Between school and work: For many young people, the transition from school to work is a difficult and drawn-out period. At any one time, about 30% of young people in Turkey are neither in work nor in school. This is a very high proportion by international standards. The ratio is highest among girls, many of whom leave school early and/or never join the workforce at all.

Birth registration: There is evidence that some children still miss out on birth registration, which is the gateway to all children’s and citizen’s rights, for the first few years of their lives - or longer in some cases.

Disaster preparedness and the environment: Besides environmental degradation and climate change, housing and infrastructure are extremely vulnerable to earthquakes and floods – a major risk for children and young people.

1.4 Disadvantaged groups: Children and young people belonging to one or more of the following disadvantaged social groups are especially likely to be affected by the issues mentioned above, in addition to some other issues:

Disabled children: Despite the policies in place and commitment from the government, boys and girls at risk of disability – and especially those from poor backgrounds - are still often unable to benefit fully from their rights in the same way as, and alongside, their peers. Their needs may not be identified early and accurately, they may face problems of physical access, and they may suffer as a result of discrimination, low expectations or overprotective attitudes. A large number of disabled children do not seem to be benefiting from their right to quality education.

Children and young people in underdeveloped regions and rural areas: Children and young people in underdeveloped regions and rural areas are most likely to experience material poverty. Poverty correlates closely with large family size, which is highest in parts of East and Southeast Turkey. In rural areas, up to half of Turkey’s children are at risk of poverty. Children and young people in underdeveloped regions and rural areas are disadvantaged with respect to nutrition, health and education outcomes, services and opportunities. Levels of infant and child mortality, stunting, school non–participation and gender disparity in school non-attendance are all highest among children in underdeveloped regions and rural areas. Internet access is much lower in rural areas than in urban areas. Opportunities for leisure and social activities are also limited.

Children and young people in poor urban neighbourhoods: Observation suggests that children and young people in poor urban areas, many of whose parents are migrants from rural areas or less developed regions, also experience significant levels of poverty and deprivation, and a lack of social security. In addition, they face the highest risk of conflict with the law, street life and other dangers associated with city life and the urban environment.  

The Roma: As in other countries in Turkey’s region, children and young people from Roma communities are known to live in difficult conditions and to face especially high barriers - ranging from discrimination to lack of role models - in accessing their rights and fulfilling their potentials. The participation of many Roma children in education, for instance, is observed to be low.

Children and young people in conflict situations: Children and young people living amid the political tensions and violence in Southeast Turkey experience psychological stresses and significant additional risks of death or physical injury, in addition to underlying material deprivation. Many come into conflict with the law and some are recruited by the PKK, which frequently leads to a violent death.

Children whose mother tongue is not Turkish: Children whose first language is not Turkish may face difficulties in the early years of formal education and fall behind from an early age. This issue is most relevant in Kurdish- and Arabic-speaking parts of East and Southeast Turkey and in other urban areas with large populations of migrants from these regions.

International migrants: Some of the children and young people applying to the UNHCR for refugee status and subsequent resettlement receive social assistance and health care and are able to attend school, but others face difficulties for reasons which may include poverty, language competencies or issues related to identity documents and compulsory places of residence. Children and young people also make up a high proportion of the irregular migrants who are frequently intercepted - and who not infrequently lose their lives - seeking to enter Europe via Turkey. These children may be detained in removal centres or forcibly deported.

1.5 General recommendations: Individual solutions can and should be developed for each and every one of the issues of child rights and child and youth well-being with which Turkey is faced. Some of these issues are already well understood and regularly monitored; others require additional data collection, study and analysis. In many cases, it may be sufficient to pursue existing policies and initiatives further or more vigorously; in others, fresh initiatives need to be taken. An effort has been made to consider such policy matters in more detail in the relevant sections of this Situation Analysis. At the same time, it will be much easier to bring about improvements in all areas of child rights and child and youth well-being if the following general principles are widely adopted and internalised: 

A rights-based approach: The willingness to do good things for children which exists at all levels of society needs to be complemented by a culture of child rights, so that children are always perceived as individuals with rights, and never as the properties of parents or other individuals or institutions - and so that parents, professionals, officials and policy-makers acknowledge their full obligations and work to ensure that every girl and boy everywhere benefits from a satisfactory level of well-being and protection. Regarding children’s issues as a question of rights will ensure that no child is forgotten – not even the few who still lack birth registration, or fail to attend primary school, or go missing each year. It will lead to a much greater sense of urgency about violence against children, about long detention periods and about the trial of children by non-specialist courts. It will ensure that children have a say in decisions affecting themselves, and that complaints and monitoring mechanisms are put in place. It will cause restrictive, controlling attitudes towards young people, especially girls, to be replaced by an empowering approach. It will also ensure that efforts are made to provide children not only with health and education services but with the full range of child rightsincluding civil rights and freedoms and the rights to information, leisure, a safe environment and protection from the impact of disasters. All decision-makers and professionals working with children need to be fully conversant with children’s rights. The mass media can also play an important role in creating this culture. The current process ofconstitutional change provides an opportunity to increase guarantees of child rights in the Constitution, and subsequently to make necessary updates to those pieces of legislation which are not fully in line with child rights principles – for example with respect to child participation.

More resources for more, better and more equitable services: In public services, Turkey is in a position to “think big” and set itself higher goals in terms of quality, quantity and equity. In education and health, a minimal service is being provided to almost the whole population; the challenge now is to work towards an equitable, child-friendly education process developing the potential of girls and boys from all regions and sections of society, and towards a more holistic public health service for all, especially children and young people, leading to healthier and safer lives. In social protection, a rights-based system is still developing, and a special focus on social protection for children, who are the worst affected by poverty, is still lacking. Social services and child protection services are patchy and quality is not assured. The establishment of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies in 2011 is an opportunity to develop more extensive, better-coordinated, comprehensive child protection services, with more emphasis on prevention and early warning systems. In juvenile justice, it is essential to follow the right procedures for all children in contact with the law, and not just for some of them. Turkey currently has no clear policy for the preschool age group, and devotes few resources to this area, notwithstanding the critical importance of care and stimulation in the early years for the future healthy development and achievements of the child, and the role which early childhood development can play in the elimination of cycles of poverty. Diversification of services for adolescents and young people, especially girls, is desirable in order to meet the needs of the members of this large and important element of the population for all kinds of practical information, life and livelihood skills, opportunities for work experience, personal and social development and civic engagement, and protection from exploitation or early marriage.

Increased delivery of quality public services reaching all children and young people equally requires improvedcoordination among the institutions responsible, the development of standards and monitoring systems - or the full and open implementation of those already developed - and the employment of more, better-trained, specialisedprofessionals. It also requires larger budgets and effective use of resources. The public resources spent on children, families and young people are clearly low by European or OECD standards, even though children and young people make up a relatively large part of the population in Turkey. For example, the extension of compulsory education to twelve years in 2012 has not been matched by a corresponding increase in resources. The available resources need to be raised and closely monitored. Both the inadequacy of public spending and the tendency for public resources to be concentrated in more developed cities, provinces and neighbourhoods, and in more central, prestigious or long-standing institutions, limit the ability of public services to compensate for wide socioeconomic discrepancies.

Focus on inequality, disadvantage and exclusion: In addition to ensuring the comprehensiveness of policies and services for the general population, a direct focus on those categories of children and young people who face the greatest risk of deprivation, exclusion and rights abuses could be the quickest way to ensure more equitable access to rights and opportunities. This includes:

--girls, because gender inequality persists -  girls remain more likely than boys to drop out of school, for example, or to be obliged to do housework rather than pursuing their own interests and goals - and because they are particularly at risk of early and forced marriage, honour crimes and sexual violence.

--poor children in both rural and urban settings, because socioeconomic disadvantage is the single main reason why children are deprived of rights and exposed to risks. No child can deserve to live in poverty, and the effects of poverty cannot be reversed in later life. Parental self-sacrifice alone cannot be expected to compensate, particularly as parents of poor children are generally uneducated and socially insecure, and may have several children.

--children and young people with disabilities, who face multiple barriers in accessing their rights, despite efforts to address their special needs in the health, education and social services sectors. In addition to better services and physical environments, there is a need to change social norms and attitudes concerning the rights and potentials of persons with all kinds of disability and their integration into society.

--Roma children and young people, children and young people affected by political violence, and migrants and asylum seekers. Partly for various political reasons, few policies have been devised or activities carried out to ensure the rights and well-being of these children and young people.

Working together: Improvements in child rights and in the well-being of children and young people will be easier to bring about if full use is made of the energies and resources of all those able and willing to make a contribution. Government institutions have to take overall responsibility, but universities and academics, the mediainternational organisations, the private sector, NGOsprofessional associationsbusiness and employers’ organisations and trades unions, all have a contribution to make. This contribution may take the forms of advocacy, research, contributions to policy development, professional training, the adoption of internal good practices, the sharing of experience, the communication of messages, the financing and implementation of service delivery and/or democratic supervision and monitoring. It would be beneficial if government were more open to the views and proposals of such groups and sought their contributions more systematically, so as to integrate them into the predominantly state-controlled system of child-related services and rights monitoring. Local government and other local-level organisations and community groups or leaders are to be valued for their access to the population and knowledge of local conditions as well as the resources which they are able to provide in cash and kind. Professionals working with children or families should be equipped to champion the rights of children within and, as far as possible, beyond their own specific areas of competence. It will also be beneficial to support and inform parents, who often knowingly or unwittingly deny their children’s rights or act contrary to their well-being, so that they are able to care for their children well and provide them with necessary knowledge and support at all stages from the vital early years to the awkward moments of adolescence. Last but not least, it is important to collaborate with and listen to children and young people themselves, facilitating their efforts to claim their own rights and inform and support one another.

UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org