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Ley­la is 11 years old. She ris­es every morn­ing at 6. Works 10 hours in the fields with two breaks of 15, 20 min­utes. When she returns from the fields to the tent that shel­ters the fam­i­ly, she does the house­work and the cook­ing. Like her more than 400 thou­sand peers, Ley­la can­not live her child­hood…

In Turkey, chil­dren work in the areas con­sid­ered the hard­est and where these chil­dren are exploit­ed pur­po­sive­ly: which is to say in the street and in small and medi­um-sized busi­ness­es in the heav­i­est, most dan­ger­ous sec­tors, and in agri­cul­ture. Accord­ing to the fig­ures avail­able from Turk­ish Social Ser­vices (SGK) in 2018, of the 48 thou­sand chil­dren reg­is­tered as work­ers, 7 094 of them had expe­ri­enced acci­dents.

Only 65,7% of the work­ing chil­dren are schooled, 70,6% are boys and 29,4% are girls. The chil­dren are spread out as fol­lows: 30,8% in agri­cul­ture, 23,7 % in indus­try, 45,5% in ser­vices.1

The children have gone on working during the pandemic

The Chil­dren’s Rights Com­mit­tee of the IHD, the Human Rights Asso­ci­a­tion, in a com­mu­nique pub­lished on June 12th for the “world day against child labor” under­lines the fact that the chil­dren work­ing in agri­cul­ture have not stopped doing so despite the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic and a cur­few for those aged less than 18 years. “Cur­few and san­i­tary pre­cau­tions in the fight against the epi­dem­ic have not been applied as regards sea­son­al agri­cul­tur­al work­ers and the health offi­cials in a bul­letin pub­lished on April 4 2020 allowed the deliv­er­ance of trav­el per­mits, includ­ing for labor­ers aged less then 18 years.“

And yet, the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment had imposed a cur­few for those under 20 years of age in March, but had then exempt­ed per­sons between 18 and 20 who had a job.

“Stud­ies demon­strate that all the mem­bers of fam­i­lies, includ­ing the chil­dren, take part in the sea­son­al agri­cul­tur­al work, and the chil­dren are even pre­ferred for cer­tain jobs” also states the dec­la­ra­tion. The asso­ci­a­tion also takes anoth­er look at the most recent research from the Turk­ish Insti­tute of Sta­tis­tics (Turk­Stat) regard­ing child labor and states that the research was intend­ed as a means of dis­sim­u­lat­ing the work of chil­dren in agri­cul­ture. The study was done between Octo­ber and Decem­ber 2019 and pub­lished in March, and put the num­ber of chil­dren between the ages of 5–17 exer­cis­ing eco­nom­ic activites in Turkey at 720 000. The IHD spec­i­fies: “This is a peri­od dur­ing which sea­son­al work in agri­cul­ture is at its low­est lev­el and when the school year starts: con­se­quent­ly, the data col­lect­ed dur­ing this peri­od does not reflect the true fig­ures on chil­dren labor­ing in agriculture.”


Testimonials for child seasonal laborers

More­over, “Hay­a­ta Destek” (Sup­port for Life) an NGO found­ed in 2012, is active in attempt­ing to put an end to the exploita­tion of chil­dren in dif­fer­ent towns and regions, such as Adana, Düzce, Ordu, Sakarya, Şan­lıur­fa ve Zongul­dak, Hatay, Diyarbakır ans Istan­bul

The asso­ci­a­tion has gath­ered tes­ti­mo­ni­als from the chil­dren work­ing as sea­son­al labor­ers in a visu­al doc­u­ment pro­vid­ing the fol­low­ing information:

    • For the chil­dren sea­son­al work means: being on the road for months, being pulled out of school, liv­ing in cat­a­stroph­ic con­di­tions, work­ing an aver­age of 10–11 hours in the fields.
    • The unsan­i­tary con­di­tions in the sea­son­al agri­cul­tur­al zones threat­en the rights of chil­dren, begin­ning with that of grow­ing up in good health.
    • Whether they are work­ing or accom­pa­ny­ing their fam­i­ly, the school­ing of the great major­i­ty of the chil­dren is interrupted.
    • 15% of chil­dren of pri­ma­ry school age are not in school.
    • 59% of the boys and 73% of the girls between 15–18 are not in school.
    • 70% of the chil­dren aged between 12 and 18 spend more than 11 years in the fields.
    • 70% of the girls declare they han­dle domes­tic chores when they return to the tent.
    • 69% of those aged 12–14 and 86% of those aged 15–18 work 7 days a week.
    • The greater the age, the deep­er the gen­der inequalities.

The asso­ci­a­tion notes that child labor­ers are esti­mat­ed at 1 mil­lion in Turkey. It spec­i­fies that this fig­ure has risen sig­nif­i­cant­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly over the past 5 years with the arrival of close to 3 mil­lion Syr­i­an migrants, more than half of which are chil­dren who also join the ranks of the mass­es of exploit­ed children.

Gözde Kazaz, com­mu­ni­ca­tion offi­cer for the asso­ci­a­tion, attempts to sen­si­tize the pub­lic in an inter­view done by Figen Ata­lay, pub­lished by Cumhuriyet, and allow­ing a few child labor­ers among the thou­sands of them to speak: Abdul­lah, Ayşe, Hasan, Ley­la, Yusuf and Zeynep who work in Adana, Konya and Şanlıurfa.

Giv­en their eco­nom­ic poten­tial, dif­fer­ent towns in Turkey attract great num­bers of rur­al peo­ple seek­ing work. Their num­bers are esti­mat­ed at sev­er­al hun­dreds of thou­sands and the chil­dren fol­low their fam­i­ly in the sea­son­al or per­ma­nent moves.

enfants children

Lis­ten to the voice of these child labor­ers who often use the word “house” for the tents that shel­ter them.

There is a garbage dump here, I really don’t like this place”

carte adanaAbdul­lah is 13 years old. He works in Tuzla in the dis­trict of Adana. Adana is a large city in South­ern Turkey, a strate­gic cross­road dom­i­nat­ing the fer­tile back coun­try, the town is an indus­tri­al and com­mer­cial hub enriched by a vast cul­ti­vat­ed zone – the plain of Çukuro­va pro­duc­ing cot­ton, cit­rus, flax, sesame and vegetable.

I made friends here, mem­bers of my fam­i­ly. We play togeth­er with the chil­dren of my rel­a­tives. My favorite game is hide-and-seek. But since the space in the tents isn’t suf­fi­cient, we play in the street. And here, there is a garbage dump, I real­ly don’t like this place. There are smells that come at us, flies, dif­fer­ent kinds of bugs and dirty stuff”, he says.

Then Abdul­lah talks about school: “I used to go to school. I was in 8th grade [the equiv­a­lent of the 4th in France]. I like school and I miss my friends. When the school closed because of the coro­n­avirus, I fol­lowed class­es by phone. I want to keep on. After my stud­ies, I would like to teach sports.”

Come winter or summer, we are here to work” 

Ayşe, 14, works in Çağırkan­lı, Adana dis­trict. She talks about her dai­ly life: “My fam­i­ly works. We leave in the morn­ing and come back at night. My broth­ers and sis­ters stay at home. Right now, we are hired on a dai­ly basis. We won’t leave here to work else­where. Come win­ter or sum­mer, we are here to work. We wake up at 5:30, we leave at 6:15. The trip lasts half an hour. We leave some 15, 20 peo­ple togeth­er. I work in the field for 8 hours. We have two breaks. We go home à 5:30.”

Ayşe adds: “When I come in from the field, I take care of the domes­tic chores. I can’t play with my broth­ers and sis­ters, with my friends. With what would we play? There is noth­ing to play with.” 

As for school…“I don’t go to school. The last time, I was in 6th grade” [the equiv­a­lent to 6th grade in France].

Here, there is nothing but mud”

Hasan, 13, works in Mürseloğlu, still in Adana dis­trict. “I get up at 7. I do a bit of sport. I try to work to help my father but they don’t always take me, so I stay at home. I have no friends. There is no park. That’s why I stay at home. We don’t even have a space in which to play here. Here, there is noth­ing mud, earth. There is noth­ing else. We don’t feel like play­ing either. My broth­ers and sis­ters are small. They play togeth­er. They play with stones, with mud…
I used to go to school, but I can’t study any­more because we can’t afford it.”

We will leave for the hazelnut harvest”

carte konyaI don’t know how long we will stay here. After­wards, we will leave for the hazel­nut har­vest,” says Ley­la, an 11 year old girl who works in Makas, Konya dis­trict. She talks of her days: “My days go by in a very bor­ing way. We wake up at 6, have our break­fast and leave for the field at 7. The field is right in front of the tent, about a 10, 15 minute walk. We have two breaks in the day. We work until 7 at night.

My broth­ers and sis­ters nev­er play, they are bored at home. So I am I, I feel like I’m going to explode from bore­dom. I can nev­er play with friends. We nev­er have the time…”

I like stories from other places”

carte turquie manisa urfaWe are in Viranşe­hir, in Şan­lıur­fa. Yusuf is 13 years old. “When the work is fin­ished here, we will go to Man­isa. We will do the plum and cher­ry har­vest”, he says. Here is his dai­ly rou­tine: “I get up, I wash my face, and I eat. Then the truck arrives and we go to work. We have two half-hour breask, at 9 in the morn­ing and at mid-day at 1. We work until 5 and we go home

At night I study my lessons, I read books in my free time. I love sto­ries trans­lat­ed from for­eign lan­guages. When we come back to the tent, most of the time, my aunt takes care of the house work. I cut some wood, I bring in the water.

I go to school. I real­ly like the sci­ence classes.”

In Turkey, child labor in poor fam­i­lies is noth­ing new. It affects minori­ties and migrants both as severe­ly. And even if there have been hyp­o­crit­i­cal laws con­demn­ing it in order to be up to “Euro­pean stan­dards” two decades ago, they were nev­er applied in dai­ly life and have done more to repress street vend­ing due to pover­ty, than the harsh exploita­tion of children.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges 
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Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.