Syrian children forced to work in Turkey

The high tuition fees of schools in Turkey have forced Syrian refugees to make their children work.

al-monitor A Kurdish refugee boy from the Syrian town of Kobani holds onto a fence that surrounds a refugee camp in the border town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, Nov. 3, 2014.  Photo by REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis.


turkey, syria, refugees, education, economics, children's rights

نوف 13, 2014

The father of Ismail, a 10-year-old Syrian child, could not enroll his son in Syrian schools in Istanbul because he is unable to pay the tuition fees (an average of $100 per semester). Instead, he preferred to have Ismail work at a sewing factory that is close to their house in a poor neighborhood, so he could help his parents meet the cost of living in the Turkish city. Ismail, who works from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., is paid 400 Turkish lira per month [$178]. Yet, he is convinced, or rather his parents have convinced him, that his future in the factory will help him have a decent profession, while educational degrees will not help him earn a living in this foreign country.

The suffering of Ismail and other Syrian children have doubled abroad. [They are living] in a new country where tuition fees are unaffordable, and working a hard and exhausting job with one day off, on Sunday, which Ismail takes advantage of to play ball with his Syrian and Turkish peers in his small neighborhood.

As for Ahmad Rawas, 13, his life and familial circumstances have forced him to work in a Turkish restaurant from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. as a waiter and a delivery boy. He goes back to his small house exhausted, but the 1,200 lira [$534] per month he gets are very necessary to provide for his mother and four siblings. On days he does not show up at work for being sick or extremely tired, 40 lira [$17] is deducted from his salary. Still, despite sickness and fatigue, he goes to work the next day, induced by both the responsibility and need.

Amer, 11, stands in the Aksaray district in central Istanbul to sell Syrian bread to Syrian and Arab pedestrians, under the summer sun and in the winter cold. Sometimes, he works long hours to sell the bread he has, as it will become spoiled on the next day. Amer spoke to Al-Hayat about his work and said that it is much better than begging and smuggling Syrian cigarettes — a phenomenon luring many Syrian children, and which the Turkish government has recently begun fighting. He said that he has forgotten the meaning of education and school, which he has been missing for two years now. He bitterly remembered his [old] school, which was bombed in Maarrat al-Numan (in Idlib province).

For Siraj, necessity is the mother of invention. He has set up a small stall in the main street and started selling fireworks and other items.

Turkish schools are expensive

Abu Jawad's family could not enroll any of its three young children in school. How could it do so, as the father said, when it is unable to feed them well, and contents itself with getting bread and potatoes. The father's salary, which is 1,000 lira [$445], is barely enough to make ends meet. According to Abu Jawad, the Turkish schools even require high fees and are not convenient for a family that arrived a few months ago from the countryside of Aleppo. Abu Jawad plans to have his children help him by working in the same chandelier factory where he works, or in any other job, but “when they grow up a little bit more.”

Ibtisam Sawaf has enrolled two of her three children in Syrian schools, and the third in a Turkish school close to her place, in order to save about 140 lira [about $62] of the Syrian school bus fees per month. Sawaf pointed out that the Turkish schools no longer admit Syrian children for free, given the rise in the numbers of refugees, and is now requiring 100 lira [$44] per month per child, which is a large sum for the Syrian family that pays house rent and various bills. On the other hand, a mother of four Syrian children preferred to enroll them in a Turkish school that exclusively teaches the Quran, where they were able to verbally learn the Turkish language.

'No to child labor'

Regarding the campaign “No to Syrian child labor, Yes to the return to school” — launched from the Anta Amali [Arabic for you are my hope] Orphanage, which accommodates orphans and homeless children and provides them with care in the Turkish city of Kilis — Taghrid al-Hagli, the minister for culture and family affairs of the Syrian interim government, told Al-Hayat that the ministry will help out the campaign. He said it also will help find solutions to the problem of child labor, in part through working with the director of the Anatolia Forum, which consists of Turkish associations focusing on the Syrians. The ministry will also cooperate with the federation of Syrian civil society organizations, and parties affiliated with Turkish municipalities, especially in Gaziantep.

Hagli noted that "delegates from the ministry visited the Kilis camp, appointed teachers and psychologists and distributed hygiene tools and bags to children. After the ministry announced the Creative Child award to encourage the children in the camps, a child in the Kilis camp won it. The ministry also began a similar project in the Harem camp inside Syrian territory. It also prepared a child education class in the cultural center in Maarrat al-Numan.”

On the measures that need to be taken to prevent Syrian child labor in Turkey or to develop a law in this regard, Hagli added, “The ministry is currently handling the issue of children who have no IDs, are homeless and have been abandoned by their parents, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice in the interim government.” The Ministry for Culture and Family Affairs confirmed that it has submitted a letter on the situation of Syrian children to a conference held under the auspices of the United Nations in the Italian city of Palermo, in order to raise support for Syrian refugees and put an end to the tragedy of their children.

Insufficient attempts

Under Turkish labor law, children under the age of 15 are prohibited from working and the employer shall be sentenced up to one year in prison or pay a sum ranging between 1,000 [$445] and 1,300 lira [$578]. The law also penalizes the parents of the working child.

Nevertheless, the Turkish government neglects the work being done by Syrian refugees’ children, despite their needs. Turkish actress and [UNICEF] Goodwill Ambassador Tuba Buyukustun (known in the Arab world as Lamis) called on the international community to focus on the right of Syrian children to education, as part of the campaign “No to the loss of a generation.” In support of [this campaign], activists launched the following hashtag: #childrenofsyria.

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المزيد من Rana Ibrahim