Two million children forced to work in Turkey, including child refugees from Syria

About 78 per cent work without proper papers, health care coverage, or work compensation. At least 56 children died last year in workplace accidents, but the number is probably higher. The increase in the number of exploited children is linked to the "significant growth" of child poverty. Underage Syrian refugees work illegally in the garment industry.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – About two million children work in the country, 78 per cent of them without proper papers or health coverage. Officially, workplace accidents claimed the life of 56 of them in the past year, this according to Child labour in Turkey, a study released today by the DISK Genel-Is trade union confederation.

Today is Labour Day, an event marked around the world to remember workers’ struggle to reduce work to eight hours a day. However, millions of children are deprived of the right to study and are victims of abuse and exploitation in Turkey, a country where voters recently approved in a controversial referendum a plan by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to turn the state into a presidential republic,

The DISK report on child labour does not fully address the problem since it covers only children aged 15 to 17. Excluded are those under 15, those involved in vocational, apprenticeship, and seasonal work, in agriculture for example, as well as those employed in the hospitality industry, where minors work long hours.

In another report, the Institute of Statistics of Turkey also acknowledged the problem, saying that at least one young person in five between 15 and 17 worked last year.

According to the findings of the DISK report, the number of children who entered the job market in 2016 went up, mostly in conditions of illegality. The study found that since 2012 child labour has been increasing year by year. Overall, the number of apprentices has increased from 400,000 in 2015 to 1,7 millions by the end of December 2016.

The research indicates that the rise in child labour was linked to a significant increase in the rate of child poverty, which stands at 25.3 per cent, placing Turkey among the worst.

This has not escaped the attention of opposition parties, who have criticised the government, which has been all too ready to suppress any form of dissent.

“Children who work or who are forced to work in sectors from agriculture to industry, from construction to textile, are victims of loopholes in the law or of bad implementation of the laws,” said Atila Sertel, an MP for the Republican People's Party (CHP).

Prof Seyfettin Gürsel, from Bahçe┼čehir University’s Centre for Economic and Social Research (BETAM), and his team carried out a survey focusing on children living under material deprivation. According to the findings of their survey, 7.2 million children in Turkey live in households suffering from severe material deprivation.

The war in neighbouring Syria has further complicated the situation. Late last year, international media highlighted the exploitation of Syrian refugee children, especially in Turkey’s important garment industry, which is used to dealing with last-minute orders from Europe.

What is more, underage workers paid less than the minimum wage are part of the production chain of some major brands. Middlemen recruit children in the streets and pay them some advance money. Afterwards, the latter start working in factories during long shifts and under an unsafe working conditions.