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* The proportion of children living in poverty is higher than for the adult population. The effects of inequalities, deprivation and poverty on children last throughout their lives and go on to affect their own children. The issue of child poverty needs to be acknowledged, measured and addressed.

* In addition to material inequalities, the quality of the care which children receive within the family varies, with serious consequences for their rights and their life prospects. More can be done to support parents so that they are able to care for their children well.

* Social spending aimed at children, and families with children, is low, especially for children not yet in school. While reorganising social assistance policies and social services, a special effort should be made to remove this imbalance.

* Some of the worst forms of child labour continue to be observed in Turkey, depriving children of their rights to health and development, putting them at risk and compromising their futures. It is time to control child labour effectively, whatever the economic cost.

3.1 Incomes and living conditions/poverty and well-being: Children and young people are affected at least as much as the adult population by the large disparities of wealth, income and economic security which characterise Turkey, associated with factors such as the uneven distribution of development among regions and between urban and rural areas, the boom-bust pattern of growth, the large agricultural workforce and the prevalence of informal and irregular forms of employment.  In 2009, for example, the proportion of under-15s living in households in food and non-food poverty was 25.77%, according to the official poverty study conducted by Turkstat - 7.69 points higher than the general poverty rate. The rate of poverty among children is compounded by the fact that those parents who are less educated and live in economically underdeveloped locations - and who are therefore most likely to have low incomes – also display the highest fertility and consequently have the most “mouths to feed”. The Turkstat study demonstrates the correlation between poverty and family size very clearly. Households are generally largest in the Southeast and parts of Eastern Turkey, and also in rural areas in many central, northern, eastern and southeastern provinces, and in those neighbourhoods of cities throughout the country which are inhabited by migrants or other relatively under-educated populations. In rural areas, poverty among under-fifteens was put at 50.15% in 2009, compared to 13.71% for urban areas. Poverty rates among both adults and children changed little in 2006-9 after declining in earlier years. Children in poverty are most vulnerable to malnutrition, disease, accidents, violence, child labour and many other risks, and may nevertheless be least likely to have access to quality health, education and protection services, so that they are unable to develop to their full potential or to acquire the vocational and life skills they need to escape poverty in later life. Poverty among children is the major obstacle to breaking the vicious cycle of poverty both in terms of the individual life cycle and in terms of inter-generational transmission. Poverty and disability are also inter-related: limited access to health leads to disabilities that could be treated and cured if necessary services are provided, while disability limits access to the labour market contributing to low incomes. Reducing child poverty will not be easy: economic growth has weakened in 2012, and while the declining trend in fertility may have a positive impact in the years ahead, some parts of society may still be left behind.

Measures of child well-being

Available statistical information on child well-being focuses mainly on education and health (See the relevant sections of this Situation Analysis) and on material well-being. Little is known about other aspects of child well-being which are today attracting more interest globally, such as children’s subjective evaluations of their own safety and happiness. With respect to material well-being, information on living standards in Turkey is derived mainly from household surveys conducted by the Turkish Statistics Institute (Turkstat): the annual Household Budget Survey (HBS), which focuses on consumer expenditures, and the Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC). Both can be used to assess income distribution and to determine poverty rates. The SILC, conducted for the first time in 2010, also provides some information on a range of other aspects of deprivation or poverty, including household income, home ownership, housing quality, indebtedness, ability to meet unexpected expenses, and a multiple material deprivation indicator.

Turkstat poverty analysis based on the HBS has yielded poverty rates for under 15s and under-fives, because variables used include occupation and level of schooling. Such analysis has also demonstrated the link between poverty among children and low education level of parents, rural location, and family size. However, Turkstat did not conduct a full analysis of poverty based on consumption expenditures for 2010, stating that it is working with local and international experts on possible new data sources, methodology and indicators. For the population as a whole, food poverty was put at 0.48%, food and non-food poverty at 18.08% and relative poverty (based on 50% of equivalised median consumption expenditure, not 60%) at 15.12%.

The results of the 2010 Incomes and Living Standards Survey released in December 2011 suggest a slight improvement in income distribution with the average disposable income of the top quintile eight times that of the bottom quintile – down from 8.5 times a year earlier - and the Gini coefficient estimated at 0.402. Nevertheless, the survey gave a relative poverty rate of 16.9% (based on 50% of equivalised median disposable household income) and indicated that 18% of the population was at risk of permanent poverty. In addition, a high proportion of households reported an unmet need for home improvements and/or difficulties in paying debts and instalments. Further analysis is needed to provide data concerning the extent and depth of poverty among children.

Current OECD data for relative poverty among children (OECD Family Database - www.oecd.org/els/social/family/database) suggests that child poverty in Turkey is the highest in the OECD, at 24.6%, which is almost twice the OECD average.

In addition to the above, information on shelter, water supply and sanitation (as well as manifestations of poverty such as malnutrition) is given in the five-yearly Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) carried out by the Hacettepe University institute of Population Studies. In rural areas, the quality of water and sanitation is relatively low. Questions about indebtedness, receipt of social assistance and self-perceptions of levels of material well-being were also asked in the Family Structure Survey of the Ministry of the Family and Social Policies (2012). In 2009-2010, the World Bank and UNICEF supported a survey of the impact of the economic crisis on households in selected provinces which gave an indication of patterns of household vulnerability and response to adverse economic conditions.

Available indicators suffer from the drawback that they concentrate on households rather than on the needs of the individual child, equating children who live in poor households with poor children. This can be misleading as household income may not be spent in a way which benefits family members equally, meaning that women, children or girls could be experiencing poverty even in households which are not found to be poor. Moreover, children’s needs are different from those of adults and vary with age, gender and disability. Another drawback is the lack of detailed geographic disaggregation. Information on housing and environmental conditions for children is limited. While the spread of urban infrastructure, migration to urban areas, the transformation of shanty-town areas into modern settlements and the trend towards smaller families may be improving housing conditions for many children, the cost of rent and utilities may be prohibitive, or power supply may remain intermittent. Overcrowding is still common in the Southeast and some other rural and urban areas. In urban areas, the cost of rent and utilities may not be affordable. Buildings including shanty-town dwellings and older, unimproved urban housing may have significant structural deficiencies, harbour pests or be heated unsafely. Densely-populated urban zones are noisy and polluted, and lack spaces for children while heavy traffic causes accidents and restricts their movements.

3.2 The family environment: The care and support which girls and boys receive at home varies considerably depending not only on economic circumstances and household size but also on the family structure, the atmosphere at home and the education, knowledge, capacities and attitudes of parents or other caregivers. According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 93% of children in Turkey live with both of their natural parents. This reflects the near-universality of marriage, the very low incidence of children born out of wedlock, and the low divorce rate. Children in Turkey may therefore be considered more fortunate than children in countries where one-parent families are more commonplace (However, the divorce rate has risen, and many children may be affected by living with parents who quarrel but who do not divorce due to economic reasons or social pressures). Typically, children also live with one or more siblings, while perhaps a quarter of all children (more in rural areas) live in households including another relative, usually a grandparent. While the presence of an active and/or pension-receiving grandparent may be beneficial, a grandparent requiring a lot of care and attention could stretch family resources and care-givers’ attentions. Meanwhile, more than a million children arguably face a higher level of various risks, including neglect, due to living in a single-parent family, or to temporary or permanent separation from their parents. According to the 2008 DHS, 5% of children live with only one parent (usually the mother) due to the death of the other parent, separation or divorce, while two percent live with neither of their natural parents, although in most cases their parents are alive. At the age of 2-4, 97% of children are still living with both natural parents, but by the age of 15-17 this ratio falls to 86%.

Parenting: Many parents, particularly in poorer and less educated sections of society, may not be well aware of all of the rights of their children and may be ill-informed or misinformed on basic health and nutrition issues or, more generally, on what constitutes good parenting. In addition, they may not have sufficient education to understand their children’s problems or help them with school work. According to the 2008 DHS, most children of pre-school age are looked after at home, usually by their mothers (The employment rate among women over 15 was only 25.6%, on average, during 2011). Where the mothers are working, the mother is still the primary care giver for 30 per cent of the children (depending on the nature of her work). Other care-givers include the mother’s mother-in-law (25 per cent) or mother (11 per cent), a girl child (6 per cent) or another relative (5 per cent). Professional early childhood care services for the age group 0-3 have a very limited coverage. However, the same survey showed that only 30% of women aged 15-49 had completed eight years of primary schooling, and 18% had not even completed five years. These indicators were highest among the younger women – and are therefore likely to have improved in recent years - but particularly low among women in the East and in rural areas, who tend to have the most children. Less-educated parents, in particular, may fail to stimulate their children in early childhood by reading to them or playing with them (Eduser Consultancy Service Co: Knowledge, Attitude and Practices Survey in Preschool Education, 2009). The same parents may resort easily to some forms of violence. All this adds to the disadvantages faced by children of poorer, less educated parents. In addition, parents are not well equipped to guide their children through adolescence, given traditional taboos and roles and the rapid social changes which have occurred in the past generation. They often constrain the activities of girls increasingly as they grow up and expect them to play domestic roles.

By way of a response to these issues, family counselling services exist, and quality parenting education has been provided through the efforts of various public institutions in the health, education and social protection sectors, and of NGOs including the Mother and Child Education Foundation (AÇEV). The Directorate-General for Non-Formal Education of the Ministry of National Education implements many of these courses, building on programmes developed by UNICEF with support from the EU. In 2009, the Directorate General developed a consolidated, modular package for parents not only of young children but of children of all ages, to be used in different environments and with different groups. Draft surveys and cost-benefit analysis conducted under UNICEF’s programme in Turkey have showen parenting education programmes to be successful and cost-effective. Feedback from the beneficiaries indicates that parents who have completed the parenting education programme are applying their new skills, talking with their children more and avoiding the use of physical discipline and corporal punishment. However, thecoverage of these services is still modest compared to the number of children who could benefit. The parents of fewer than 5% of children are reached by these programmes. Expanding the programmes and reaching the most disadvantaged communities remains a challenge in terms of political support and funding. The General Directorate for Social Services and the Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK) also offers family training programmes and counselling services at Child Community Centres in disadvantaged neighbourhoods across the country.

3.3 Social protection systems and children: Article 41 of the Constitution gives the State the duty of protecting the family, especially women and children, and Article 61 obliges it to protect the disabled, the elderly, and children in need of protection. In practice, a variety of public institutions including social security institutions, public foundations and local administrations as well as central government bodies run a wide range of programmes for the retired, the ill, the jobless and the poor. These include pensions, conditional cash transfers (CCT) for mothers having health checks and hospital deliveries and sending their children to school, and many forms of assistance in kind. However, all these benefits are small and may not be permanent, rights-based or well-targeted. Although children are provided with free health insurance under the new general health insurance system, it is difficult to speak of a comprehensive social protection system.

Information on public social spending, and on the breakdown of social expenditures by national institutions given in the government’s Annual Programmes shows that social spending as a whole is still low by European standards at about 17% of GDP. It consists overwhelmingly of health spending, education expenditure and – despite the relatively young population - contributory pensions for those who have been formally employed. Other forms of social protection expenditure account for less than 1% of GDP.  Moreover, the Government’s Annual Programme for 2012 states that social transfers have less impact on poverty than in EU countries. In 2009, it explains, relative poverty was 26.5% before transfers and 23.8% after transfers, compared to 42.3% and 16.3% respectively in the 27 EU countries.


According to the Family Structure Survey (2011) of the new Ministry for the Family and Social Policies, the number of families receiving any kind of assistance at least once in the past year was 10.3%, with the Social Assistance & Solidarity Foundations and municipalities as the most common benefactors. The 2010 Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) carried out by the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat) revealed that 1.8% of household income came from social transfers.

Social protection expenditures specifically targeting families and children are especially low, as there are no substantial programmes exclusively for families with children, such as child payments, benefits or allowances, parental leave benefits or childcare support. Similarly, arrangements do not exist for monitoring the impact of social assistance spending on children on a regular basis. This is clearly not an adequate response to the high level of child poverty. In 2007, agreement was reached for the development of a national strategic plan to combat child poverty, along EU lines, under the leadership of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, but no progress was recorded.

New policies: Social assistance policy is currently in flux. The government has recognised the need for better data collection, objective measures and standards, enhanced cooperation between institutions and more qualified personnel if those in need are to be reached and supported equitably. The Social Assistance and Solidarity General Directorate of the new Ministry for the Family and Social Policies is working on a points formula for social assistance to households, and the government has promised to introduce a Family Social Support Programme (ASDEP) encompassing social assistance and social services. The consolidation within the new Ministry of responsibilities formerly carried out by several general directorates and other institutions is a positive development which could facilitate the development of a comprehensive social protection system and pave the way for a closer focus on children in social protection policy.

The Ministry is currently conducting an assessment of CCT schemes. Separately, UNICEF and the Development Ministry are cooperating on a Child Well-Being Document. It is far from certain, however, that the evolving social protection system will increase social protection for children. Emphasis has been placed on the careful selection of the persons in need of assistance and on labour market inclusion, to avoid spiralling costs and a culture of dependency. It is unclear whether the government is targeting an increase in the overall level of social assistance. Moreover, the emphasis is on households rather than individual members, and there has been very little debate about the likely impact of the new policies in terms of eliminating child poverty. In many European countries, by contrast, child well-being and/or poverty are major topics of debate, and child benefit schemes are often universal.

ECD option: Any mixture of strategies for addressing child poverty would be likely to include giving disadvantaged children priority access to professional childcare and preschool education services. In view of the importance of the early years for children’s future prospects in education and work, ECD represents a first opportunity to combat the inheritance of poverty by young children. A recent World Bank Europe and Central Asia Region Human Development Report entitled “Turkey: Expanding Opportunities for the Next Generation – A report on life chances” (February 2010) uses simulations to argue the case for an increase in currently low public investment in ECD as a key intervention for attacking poverty and interrupting the intergenerational transmission of inequity (The report is also valuable for its discussion of the origins of various dimensions of inequity, the way it is transferred from parents to children and children to grandchildren, and its consequences for health and education outcomes such as low birthweight, iodine deficiency, stunting, incomplete immunisation, access to education and educational achievement).

3.4 Child labour: One of the most important manifestations of poverty among children is child labour. Child labour has serious consequences for children. Working children are open to risks, may drop out of school, miss classes, or be unable to study well, affecting their socialisation, harming their physical, emotional and cognitive well-being, and compromising their prospects of enjoying an adequate income in adulthood. The worst forms of child labour expose children to unsanitary environments, dangerous substances, poor nutrition, physical pain and exhaustion and/or the risk of accidents, addictions or violence and abuse from employers or others. Children working on the street face the additional risks of being recruited into gangs or may turn to crime as a way of generating the income expected of them. Accordingly, Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child upholds the right of the child to be protected from “performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”. It also calls on states to take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to this effect, including the regulation of working hours and conditions and the imposition of sanctions.

The Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat) is due to conduct a child labour survey in 2012. Its last child labour survey, carried out in 2006, showed that showed that 5.9 percent of 6-17 year-olds in Turkey (over 900,000 children) were engaged in some form of economic activity. One third were in the 6-14 age group. Just under half worked as unpaid labourers in family enterprises. About 40 percent were working in agriculture. Girls made up a quarter of children working in urban areas and 40 percent in rural areas. 39 percent of working 6-14 year-olds and 83 percent of working 15-17 year-olds were not attending school. Compared to 1999, when the previous survey was conducted, the number of working children had declined, particularly in rural areas and in the case of unpaid family labour.

The overall decline in child labour may be continuing due to economic development, the decline in the proportion of the population primarily engaged in agriculture, longer years of schooling and the efforts of various ministries and agencies and ILO. However, exploitative child labour, including some of the worst forms of child labour – namely, street work, work in small industrial/service enterprises, and migrant seasonal agricultural labour – is known to persist. In migrant agricultural labour, tens of thousands of boys and girls migrate annually with (and sometimes without) their families to work in regions growing cotton, hazelnuts and many other crops. Living conditions can be primitive and also affect children too young or small to work who accompany their families. Migratory labour typically involves families from South and Southeast Turkey and can continue from early spring to late autumn, overlapping the school calendar (See the recent publications of the Ankara-based Kalkinma Atölyesi (Development Workshop), notably the Baseline Study concerning Children of the 6-14 Age Group affected by Seasonal Agricultural Migration in Turkey - Harvest of Hazelnuts, Sugarbeet and Cotton and Low Tunnel Greenhouse Vegetable Cultivation, at http://www.kalkinmaatolyesi.org). Many other children work long hours on the family farm or in the family business, perform menial and repetitive tasks in repair shops and factories, peddle goods, shine shoes or wipe windows for long hours on the streets of major cities, water graves, sort household waste or guide tourists. Babies and toddlers are used by beggars to attract passers-by. A Ministry of Labour and Social Security-ILO-UNICEF report (http://www.ilo.org/public/english/region/eurpro/ankara/areas/childrenworkinginculturalandartisticactivities.pdf) has drawn attention to conditions faced by girls and boys appearing in films, advertisements and television serials, and who may spend twelve hours or more on freezing sets or in smoke-filled studios, with nowhere to rest or play and nobody qualified to take care of them. In addition, some children, especially adolescent girls, are responsible for large amounts of housework, made necessary by large family size and/or the death, illness, injury or absence of a parent.

Besides their level of poverty, the willingness of families to use child labour can also reflect factors such as their own experience of traditional forms of child labour, the extent to which they are aware of the dangers of particular forms of child labour or the value they place on education. A low value may be placed on education if there is no history of educational success in the family or the children do not seem successful at school. Such attitudes, often but not always overlapping with poverty, may be more prevalent among certain communities, such as rural dwellers or the Roma. The acceptability of child labour to parents, communities and employers may also vary with the characteristics of local economies. Parents of child actors may turn a blind eye to poor working conditions, or the impacts of work on their children’s social development and education, in the hope that they will become celebrities. For children unhappy at home or at school, work may appear attractive.

Combating child labour: In addition to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Turkey is a party to ILO conventions 138 (the Minimum Age Convention) and 182 (on the Prevention of the Worst Forms of Child Labour), but not to ILO conventions 79 and 90 on Night Work of Young Persons. Various laws contain provisions regarding the tasks in which children may be employed, minimum ages and the rights/protection of children in work. The Labour Law outlaws employment below the age of 15, with certain exceptions. However, the high level of informality in the Turkish economy, the large number of small enterprises and the weakness of trades unions are among the factors which add to the difficulty of applying the law. The Labour Law, moreover, does not apply in agriculture, and inspectors are few and do not have access to agricultural enterprises or small businesses. Penalties are too small to act as a deterrent. Street working is not necessarily illegal. A draft bill on occupational health and safety was criticised by NGOs and academia in early 2012 for deleting the labour law provision prohibiting heavy and dangerous work for people aged under 18.

Along with good, well-enforced laws, eliminating harmful forms of child labour requires improved child protection and prevention systems and social assistance and protection policies for alleviating poverty, and effective use of the Ministry of National Education’s systems for monitoring and responding to school non-attendance – including secondary school attendance, now that it has been made compulsory as of 2012. Above all, coordination needs to be ensured among several government sectors, business, trades unions and civil society at national and local levels. Efforts to ensure universal birth registration also need to continue given anecdotal evidence that children without birth registration are involved in child labour, and these children easily escape the attention of public authorities. Moreover, efforts to combat child labour need to be informed by adequate analysis of supply and demand-side factors, including the impact which eliminating the worst forms of child labour will have on family budgets, social structures, the circumstances of employers, intermediaries and other interested parties, and economic outputs such as production, prices, employment and exports.

In 2005, a Time-Bound Policy and Programme Framework for eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2015 was drawn up through a participatory process led by the child labour unit of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. This document also contains information on the legislative framework and the projects carried out since 1992 in order to prevent child labour and/or to provide services to and improve conditions for the children concerned. However, more resources, capacity and commitment are needed to implement the strategy fully.

In its Concluding Observations in June 2012, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child encouraged Turkey to “take all available means to combat child labour and eliminate the worst forms of child labour”. It recommended that the minimum age of employment should be brought into conformity with the age when children graduate from compulsory education (Secondary education was made compulsory by the law adopted by Parliament in March 2012 restructuring the education system), as well as into conformity with the regulation of employment of children in hazardous conditions, in compliance with ILO Convention 182.

UNICEF Turkey Country Office, Yukarı Dikmen Mah. Alexsander Dubçek Cd. 7/106, 06450 Çankaya/Ankara. Telephone: +90 312 454 1000 Fax: +90 312 496 1461 E-mail: ankara@unicef.org