A forum was organized by the Platform for Protecting Children and Their Rights under the title “What have we done until today and what more must we do to protect children’s rights in Turkey on the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child?”, and among the participants were some of the leading jurists, academics, and chairmen of various charity organizations. The recent omissions and prospective solutions concerning children’s rights were discussed at the forum.
A forum, titled “What have we done until today and what more must we do to protect children’s rights in Turkey?”, was organized on the 20th anniversary of Turkey’s adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The forum was held in the Prof. Cemil Bilsel Conference Hall of the Faculty of Science of Istanbul University and brought together some key speakers to offer solutions and to discuss those offered. The forum was moderated by Ali İhsan Varol.
Platform Chairwoman Figen Özbek, Lawyer: “Today, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Turkey’s adoption of the Convention has been very important in terms of helping the children in Turkey to have the same rights enjoyed by children in developed countries. If clashes between parents, societies and ethnic groups are posing a threat to the child; if class differences in society are badly affecting some children’s access to proper education; if children leaving closed-down nursery schools or living in families can not be monitored; if children who have spent some time in detention houses or prisons are ostracized without having been properly trained; and if children are forced to work or get married before they can live their childhood; then it means we are failing to fulfill our duty of providing guidance and making good role models for them. The Platform for Protecting Children and Their Rights, formed by 14 deep-rooted NGOs working on the rights of children, aims to be the voice of children and to advocate their rights. It is the state’s duty in the first place to prevent child poverty and to help children grow into educated and healthy individuals being aware of their rights. NGOs, on the other hand, should strive to make these efforts a reality for children. This is what we do.”
Prof. Bahadır Erdem, Chairman of Family Law Association: “According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every individual under the age of 18 is a child. However, under Turkish Civil Code, the minimum age for marriage is 13, increasing to 16 under special circumstances, and 15 in case of rape. At the Platform, we propose that every individual under the age of 18 be deemed a child under all the laws. It is the responsibility of parents to raise their children, but civil courts do not grant parents joint custody of children. In Turkey, compulsory education is limited to elementary school whereas the Convention requires that compulsory education include high school as well. The rule of mitigation of punishment should not apply in cases of sexual abuse or exploitation of children. The new law enacted in last June introduced more severe sentences for such crimes, but it is still far from our expectations. Although the reservations made by Turkey to the regulations regarding education in one’s own language under the Convention in 1994 would be considered reasonable given the country’s circumstances at the time, the said reservations should be withdrawn today because Turkey has changed a lot since then.”
Seda Akço, Member of the Istanbul Bar Children’s Rights Center said, “Some 1 million children are working in Turkey, and 650 thousand of them are working under conditions that are considered as the worst form of child labor by ILO.” Commenting on what should be done to protect children’s rights in Turkey, Akço added: “The Convention should be adopted as a national law. A range of social services (a basic income, social security, child support, consultancy, medical treatment, etc.) should be provided to all parents. A system should be set up by which to monitor and take proactive measures against all risks that children might encounter. Also, independent monitoring and supervisory institutions should be established.”
Ali Nasuh Mahruki, AKUT Foundation Chairman: “Children have the right to spend time playing games out in nature rather than indoors like shopping malls. They should be assessed for their physical and psychological condition and for artistic skills and be given education accordingly. The child gains his/her rights in the moment his/her parents decide to bring him/her to the world. So the state should take measures to prevent close-kin marriage.”
Prof. Fatoş Erkman, Head of Faculty of Education, Bosphorus University: “The system has another gap. In cases of divorce, the child is not represented by a state-hired lawyer who can defend the child’s best interest and rights.”
Osman Kaya, Pedagogue and Psychological Consultant: “It is important to teach children about their rights. Because only those children who are aware of their rights and who know how to defend their rights can change society. This is the key to growing self-confident generations.”
Stating that healthier generations could only be achieved through policies developed by the state jointly with society, Yasemin Cankurtaran Öney, an academic and an expert on politics and international relations, said “When formulating their perception management programs, states should also take society, and particularly children, into account in an effort to help grow healthier generations as children are our future.”