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In Turkey, April 23rd is “Nation­al Chil­dren’s Day”. Hun­dreds of chil­dren will cel­e­brate it behind bars, detained with their mothers…

Their offi­cial num­ber in Novem­ber 2018 was 743 (534 aged between 0–3 years, and 200 between 4 and 6). As the prison cells are not emp­ty­ing, the num­ber of chil­dren “detainees” keeps on grow­ing.

Pyschol­o­gists report, and don’t stop denounc­ing, the effects on chil­dren of impris­on­ment and the mediocre con­di­tions of incarceration.

The Turk­ish min­istry of Jus­tice had begun an inquiry  of spe­cial­ists and of moth­ers incar­cer­at­ed with their chil­dren. They were asked “Would chil­dren be bet­ter in jail with their moth­er or in State orphan­ages?“At the very least, spe­cial­ists and ped­a­gogues rec­om­mend­ed low­er­ing the cur­rent age of deten­tion from 0–6 years to 0–3. As for the moth­ers, they said they pre­ferred keep­ing their chil­dren with them, despite the dif­fi­cul­ties of the carcer­al envi­ron­ment, rather than being sep­a­rat­ed from them and hav­ing them sent in insti­tu­tions. But, con­cur­rent­ly, they demand­ed bet­ter con­di­tions in jail.

Fol­low­ing these con­sul­ta­tions, the Min­istry filed away the report… And insists that the pris­on­ers’ chil­dren can ben­e­fit from day-care and kinder­garten facil­i­ties “close to some jails”, open to the chil­dren of prison staff and of judges and prosecutors…

 The children’s sentence, a double sentence for the mothers

 A few days ago, on Feb­ru­ary 20th, 28 orga­ni­za­tions from the civ­il soci­ety issued a com­mon dec­la­ra­tion about chil­dren in jail, using the case of Fil­iz Karaoğlan, incar­cer­at­ed in Pat­nos prison with her pre­ma­ture twins.

The com­mu­nique rais­es sev­er­al issues. Prison quar­ters sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly hold more peo­ple than their capac­i­ty should war­rant. Since there are no car­pets or oth­er soft­en­ing mate­ri­als on the ground, babies spend almost all their lives on their moth­er’s bunk bed. Chil­dren’s access to nature is impos­si­ble. Thus, the chil­dren’s incar­cer­a­tion rep­re­sents a dou­ble sen­tence for the mothers.

In Fil­iz’ case, but also for oth­er detained moth­ers in oth­er pris­ons, the only food sup­ple­ments pro­vid­ed by the prison admin­is­tra­tion con­sist of baby foods such as fruit juices and cook­ies. Obvi­ous­ly, fresh foods, fruits and veg­eta­bles are required for the devel­op­ment of  small chil­dren. More­over, con­di­tions in the quar­ters – intense humid­i­ty, insuf­fi­cient heat­ing and air cir­cu­la­tion — cre­ate an envi­ron­ment con­ducive to a num­ber of illnesses.

The com­mu­nique also men­tions: the total absence of a sup­port­ive pro­gram offer­ing even a min­i­mum of well-being for the chil­dren in jail. Day-care cen­ters opened in some pris­ons do not accept chil­dren below a cer­tain age. Those chil­dren’s first years are spent entire­ly inside the quarters.

The few changes intro­duced in the leg­is­la­tion with­out tak­ing into account pri­or­i­ties for chil­dren, show a very lim­it­ed amount of benev­o­lence, and demon­strate an ori­en­ta­tion ded­i­cat­ed to the main­te­nance of these chil­dren in jail, with no improve­ment in their moth­ers’ con­di­tions of incarceration.

The incar­cer­a­tion of moth­ers and chil­dren, devoid of nec­es­sary and suf­fi­cient sol­lic­i­tude, falls with­in the pro­vi­sions describ­ing vio­la­tions of human rights. 

 The com­mu­nique calls upon the Min­istry of Jus­tice to  tack­le anew the prob­lem of chil­dren in prison in an urgent man­ner and with coop­er­a­tion from spe­cial­ists, orga­ni­za­tions from the civ­il soci­ety as well as orga­ni­za­tions and insti­tu­tions devot­ed to child wel­fare, in order to find solu­tions and end this vio­la­tion of fun­da­men­tal human rights.

Dersim, Ayşe, Çınar, three among others…

The recent­ly lib­er­at­ed Kur­dish artist, jour­nal­ist and author Zehra Doğan, expressed her con­cern in a reportage pub­lished in the begin­ning of Feb­ru­ary 2019:

Since my incar­cer­a­tion, I have met scores of chil­dren in prison. Here, we have Der­sim, 2 years old, Ayşe, 3, and Çınar, 5. These chil­dren have nev­er seen the out­side world, don’t know what leaves on a tree  or the earth feel like.  We try to teach them from books. Every time we leave the  walk and cross into the cor­ri­dor, Çınar cries and yells “I don’t want to go inside”. She attacks the guards. Der­sim and Ayse show strong dis­plays of anger. They frown every time the guards close the door. They can’t man­age to sleep because of the noisy envi­ron­ment. They wake sud­den­ly and cry. All three are in dif­fer­ent quar­ters. Ayşe calls, yelling under the door, “I’m here, do you hear me? Çınar, Der­sim, are you OK?” She talks to them by putting her mouth on the trap cov­er­ing the gut­ter, “Çınar, do you hear me?” she yells.

In a report pub­lished March 1st on Bianet, Zehra adds:

Ayşe showed her joy with cries every time she saw a plane or a fly­ing bird. She would talk to them “Bird, make me fly, take me to the trees! Bird, take me!” And we would tell her, “Ayşe, go with the birds”, and she would answer “I can’t, I’m detained here.“Then she would try to push her head through the wire mesh. It did­n’t work, she could­n’t get out. Ayse, who entered jail at the age of 7 months, has nev­er in her life seen the sea, a tree, the earth…”

Of what “nation­al Chil­dren’s Day” can we talk about in Turkey, when they are jailed and sub­ject­ed to the dis­as­trous fate the Turk­ish State reserves for its pre­sumed and fan­ta­sized ene­mies? Does the regime need to “eat its chil­dren” for the sur­vival of its so-called Repub­lic? It already does so with adults with its mil­i­taris­tic hys­te­ria.  Pre­serv­ing its descen­dants through the basic respect of the inter­na­tion­al treaties Turkey has signed would be a minimum.

Civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions brave­ly strug­gling for this min­i­mal respect of rights must be sup­port­ed from out­side Turkey as well. Their fight for human rights must be pop­u­lar­ized. But, while wait­ing for progress, the chil­dren them­selves must receive human attention.

And at Kedis­tan, we say “let’s go for it”. Let’s go for it with cor­re­spon­dence, the send­ing of draw­ings, the adop­tion of empris­oned chil­dren by school class­es… We will gath­er togeth­er as many address­es as pos­si­ble for this, and will pre­pare an appeal each of you can then use in the com­ing weeks and, why not, for a “transna­tion­al Chil­dren’s Feast” in April?

 Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Naz Oke
REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.