The situation of Kurdish children in Turkey is distressful. There aren’t much talks about this but it is a known fact and it is written down in thousands of pages and reported by professionals and people who can say that they are ‘competent’ to talk about this subject. For example, In January 2010 a 160-pages-long report has been published by the Kurdish Human Rights Project ( KHRP) about the situation of Kurdish children in Turkey.

Although both the Turkish government as well as the various international organisations who are settled in Turkey do not make a distinction between the different cultural, linguistic and religious groups, the report shows that the situation of the Kurdish children is worse than that of  ethnic Turkish children .The economic gap between the West and the ( Kurdish) East of the country is  gigantic. The incomes in the West reach European standards, while the incomes in the East are equal to those of the poorest countries in the world. 60 % of the Turkish Kurds live beneath the poverty line.

This poverty is among other things the result of the massive forced migration in the 90’s, when the Turkish militaries destroyed around 3500 villages in the South-east during their war against the PKK. Consequently,  accommodation constitutes a major obstacle in the development and the well-being of the Kurdish children. Kurdish families , their number is being estimated to 3.5 million , moved and are still moving in massive numbers to the cities where there isn’t enough supply on the housing market and where almost half of all the houses are in need of serious renovation. As a result a lot of slums have developed : a great amount of children live in areas with muddy streets, problems with transport and communication and  with lack of green zones , playgrounds and stores.

Research shows that the number of IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons) in a region is linked to child labour and children living on the streets. Yet, the link between forced migration and these problems is still a taboo in Turkey. According to the KHRP, this allows  prevention and rehabilitation projects for children to be often inefficient or even to project the families and the children as criminals. There also is an acute shortage of means for projects like these.

Concerning education, it is also clear that Kurdish children are being prejudiced because of their origin. In comparison with other schools, those in the South-east score  badly on national tests because the children  are not being schooled in their native language. Education in Kurdish is still prohibited.

Anti-terror legislation merciless for Kurdish children

Although the last couple of years Turkey has began to work out a children’s rights system under pressure of the European Union, in the meantime other developments are taking place that signify a great step backwards. The anti-terror law and the law on police forces are the most well-known examples of these ‘bad’ developments. The report of the KHRP devotes a lot of attention to the cases of  children put in prison because  of their participation in protests. This year, also Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch already published reports about this. Since 2006 thousands of children ,some of them only 12 years old, have been persecuted under the anti-terror legislation because of their supposed participation in pro-Kurdish demonstrations. After their arrest , the children got locked up in the detention centers for adults without having the ability to contact their lawyers or family. Once they were indicted , a lot of children were placed in custody for several months or even up to a year or longer. During their detention period,  the children have no  access to education, health facilities or leisure activities. The children go through maltreatment and torture. Furthermore, in this manner the Turkish state offends the freedom of speech, which also counts for children. Participation is one of the three basic principles of the UN’s  International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In July 2010 the Turkish government changed the law to prevent the persecution of minor demonstrators under the anti-terror legislation. Hereby persecutions of children according to the anti-terror legislation should be nullified. The children who  were persecuted as part of other laws , should now be court-martialed in juvenile courts and no longer in Special Courts for Felonies . Despite this positive evolvement , a lot of children still were not released because the transfer of the files to the juvenile courts is leaping behind. Certain provinces are still short in juvenile courts.

These children are often the same children who after forced migration, resulting in trauma within families, found themselves in the poverty of the big cities like Diyarbakir. And this makes the vicious circle go round and round: violence –  fleeing – poverty- violence.

Interparliamentary working group on the Kurds and the BDP send children’s rights delegate to Turkey

We know all these facts from reports of respected international human and children’s  rights organisations. The interparliamentary working group on the Kurds (Brussels) in collaboration with the BDP ( Freedom and Democracy Party) is now sending a representative to the South-east of Turkey to see how all these recommendations can be put into practice. This will  require much more than just goodwill . European, national and local authorities will have to deliver serious political work.

The recommendations from the report of the KHRP will be kept in the back of the mind. First of all , the share of the conflict in the children’s situation must be recognized so that the problems  can be addressed  in a sufficient manner.

Whatever rights of these children are violated ( economic , legal , …), the answer always lays in a peaceful solution of the conflict. At the same time, a permanent solution of the conflict will have to go, inevitably , hand in hand with protecting the rights of children so that they can evolve into women and men who can dedicate themselves to the peace process.

For this , we must be aim at enforcing non-gouvernemental organisations that specialize in children’s rights so that they can fill the  gap between legislation and practice , in cooperation with the local and national governments.

The European Union has  to constantly monitor and financially support the children rights from nearby. The funds of the ‘European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights’  and the ‘Instrument for Pre-Accesion Assistance’ can be used for this. These good intentions were already mentioned in several important policy documents of the EU.

The children’s rights delegate will frequently report about the situation on the spot and will also get in contact with  European policy makers and NGO’s, in cooperation with the BDP and the IWK.The delegate will advise and support children’s rights activists  with policy work and fundraising.

Want to know more about children’s rights in Turkish Kurdistan?

THE SITUATION OF KURDISH CHILDREN IN TURKEY, Fact finding mission and research report, Kurdish Human Rights Project, januari 2010, http://www.nrc.ch/8025708F004CE90B/%28httpDocuments%29/4A0EEC99415FD7F8C12577270046C020/$file/The+Situation+of+Kurdish+Children+ONLINE1.pdf

• http://zaroken.blogspot.com/ : Children’s rights delegates blogspot

• FIELD VISIT REPORT ON CHILDREN DEEMED TO BE TERRORIST OFFENDERS FOR PARTICIPATING IN DEMONSTRATIONS, Unicef, 2009

• CHILDREN ARE NOT TERRORISTS! Ngo report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on Juvenile justice and armed conflict in Turkey, Justice fort Children Initiative in Turkey, april 2009

• ALL CHILDREN HAVE RIGHTS, End unfair prosecutions of children under anti terrorism legislation in Turkey, Amnesty International, 2010

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