UNICEF Global     TR

* Children in Turkey face the risk or reality of many forms of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect, depending partly on their age, sex and social background. The Child Protection Law of 2005 introduced a rights-based approach to child protection, and considerable efforts have been made to implement the Law. However, important deficiencies persist in areas like institutional, financial and human resources, coordination and monitoring. Child protection services are mainly geared to intervention when a violation has occurred, while prevention and early warning systems are undeveloped.

* Most children encounter some form of violence from adults or other children, whether at home, in and around school, or in the community. Girls in particular face a significant risk of sexual abuse and sexual violence. Honour killings and forced suicides continue to be reported. The development of policies against violence has proceeded slowly, with limited monitoring. A renewed effort is needed to ensure that all forms of violence against children are unacceptable throughout society, to ensure identification, reporting and follow-up with the help of better information-sharing and coordination, to empower children and activate complaints mechanisms, and to expand services for victims.

* Turkey has made significant efforts, particularly in recent years, to bring its laws, regulations and practices in the area of justice for children into line with the highest international standards. In terms of implementation, however, the results have been patchy. Many children are still tried in adult courts. A significant number still face very long periods of pre-trial detention. Alternative measures – where used – are not implemented effectively. Conditions in detention still give cause for complaint, and services for child victims require developing further. A greater sense of urgency is required about these issues.

* Some 14,000 children without parental care are living in residential institutions. This figure indicates that policies of deinstitutionalisation through support for families, foster parenting and adoption have made some progress in recent years. Meanwhile, standards have been set for residential institutions and children are being moved to smaller, friendlier types of home. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recommended that Turkey: (a) continue its efforts to improve conditions for children deprived of parental care, in particular by providing more qualified professionals and effective monitoring of conditions for such children; (b) consider an impartial evaluation of the child care system and the de-institutionalization process so far, with a view to identifying both good practices and areas where adjustment may be necessary. 

8.1 Child protection challenges and systems: There is ample evidence that a large number of children in Turkey face the risk or reality of one or more form of exploitation, violence, abuse and neglect. Details of some of these forms are provided below or in other sections of this Situation Analysis. A large body of information, ideas and references on missing children, sexual abuse and forced prostitution, children living and working on the street, working children and children in contact with the law, the causes of these problems and the legislation, institutions and systems in place for responding can also be found, for instance, in the report of the Parliamentary Research Committee Established with the Aim of Studying Missing Children and other Problems of which Children are the Victims and Determining the Measures which Need to be Taken (Kayıp Çocuklar Başta Olmak Üzere Çocukların Mağdur Olduğu Sorunların Araştırılarak Alınması Gereken Önlemlerin Belirlenmesi Amacıyla Kurulan Meclis Araştırması Komisyonu) (available in Turkish at http://www.tbmm.gov.tr/sirasayi/donem23/yil01/ss589.pdf). The Committee reported back in 2010.

The risks that girls and boys will be exposed to some form of violence, exploitation or abuse, or to other damaging or unpleasant experiences, are related to social conditions as well as their personal circumstances. While the growth of the economy, the consumer society and the state, the spread of technology and the concentration of the population in urban areas through migration have provided many children and young people with unprecedented access to services, knowledge and opportunities, they have also led to fragile livelihoods, created highly visible inequalities of income and status, weakened family and neighbourhood ties, juxtaposed value systems and created new and unfamiliar physical and digital environments. Life is increasingly competitive and new forms of crime and exploitation have emerged. In some parts of Turkey, social strains are exacerbated further by the effects of ongoing political tensions, violence and terrorism. The phenomenon of children living and working on the street, which drew public attention in the late 1990s and early 2000s, leading to a parliamentary enquiry and the development of new services for children, shows the impact of social factors (internal migration, urban poverty etc.) on the types of risk which children face. It follows that social policies and even political and security policies are of great importance for protecting children.

At the same time, the development of child protection policies, together with new practices and positive social change, can and does enhance children’s protection and resilience. Efforts are being made to improve and expand child protection mechanisms in Turkey not only by developing specific responses to each type of violence, abuse or neglect, but also by integrating and coordinating these systems and linking them to currently-underdeveloped prevention and early identification efforts.

Child protection is not a sector like education or health. The steps taken to protect children and young people from risks, to intervene to stop the infringement of rights and to support those whose protection rights have been infringed may be taken or overseen by authorities in the fields of social services, security, justice, education, health or other sectors. Efforts to protect children and young people nevertheless need to be coordinated to ensure that they are comprehensive, to prevent duplication, and to establish mechanisms whereby services available in one sector can be provided in response to risk situations or individual cases identified by another sector.   

The Child Protection Law of 2005 is the major piece of legislation in this area. It sets out procedures for directing children in need of protection to counselling, health services, child care, educational programmes and/or shelter, and makes arrangements for the implementation of such measures. Children in need of protection are defined as those whose physical, mental, moral, social and emotional development and personal security are at risk, who are neglected or abused, or who are victims of crime. The Child Protection Law essentially leaves in place the provisions of the Social Services Law governing matters related to the provision of child care including responsibilities and procedures for the identification of children who may be in need and for the obtention of protection orders. The Child Protection Law also deals with the establishment, duties and authorities of child courts, and security measures to be taken for children forced into crime. In these contexts, it determines the roles and duties of the related government agencies, social workers and probation officers.

A meeting held by the Ministry of Justice at the end of 2009 with the participation of relevant experts in order to evaluate the implementation of the Child Protection Law revealed, in addition to a large number of outstanding issues specifically related to judicial matters (See below), that the envisaged provincial coordination bodies were not meeting regularly or with full participation by all members, that provincial social services directorates lacked resources to carry out new responsibilities including responsibilities for monitoring children at risk, providing counselling and care and issuing social investigation reports, that there was insufficient exchange of information between public agencies, that an early warning system was needed and that social services needed to be organised at the neighbourhood level (English: http://www.unicef.org.tr/en/knowledge/detail/1117/child-protection-law-4-year-evaluation-meeting-december-2009-meeting-report; Turkish: http://www.unicef.org.tr/tr/knowledge/detail/1116/cocuk-koruma-kanunu-nun-4-yillik-degerlendirme-toplantisi-aralik-2009-toplanti-raporu). More generally, it can be stated that there is a need for more resources, facilities and qualified, fully specialised professionals to implement properly all existing and newly-developed child protection arrangements.

Deficiencies in the implementation of the Child Protection Law have been acted on to some extent. For example, a coordination strategy has been adopted, and an early warning system has been piloted. The establishment of a local-level network of social services centres and experts encompassing all vulnerable families is high on the agenda of the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies, which was established in 2011. This Ministry incorporates the former Directorate General for Social Services and the Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK, which had previously been responsible for child care and various other social services under Law No.2828 of 1982 – now known as the Social Services Law) -as well as some other state bodes with important roles in social assistance and social issues. It published a regulation on Family Counselling Centres in September 2012.

8.2 Violence and abuse: Recent global studies have shown that almost all children witness violence at home, in schools and in the community - and that large numbers of children are directly affected by this (UN Study on Violence against Children/World Report on Violence against Children, 2006; UNICEF/Inter-parliamentary union: Eliminating Violence against Children). Violence may be physical, sexual or emotional. Exposure to violence in early childhood can affect the maturing brain, while prolonged exposure in children of all ages can have long-term health effects. Depending on its frequency and severity, violence can also affect children’s ability to express themselves, their school performance, their socialisation, their self-esteem and their general emotional well-being. In later life, children exposed to violence are more likely than others to engage in substance abuse and early/risky sexual activity, to suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders, impaired work performance and memory disturbances, and to engage in aggressive behaviour themselves, thereby transferring the human and social costs from one generation to another.

In Turkey, as in other countries, violence against children and young people occurs in many contexts including homes, schools, child care institutions, the policing and justice systems, and public places. It is inflicted by children and young people themselves, by adults with responsibilities to children or by strangers. It takes many forms, ranging from physically and emotionally violent discipline in the home to child abuse and sexual violence. Violence and abuse against children and young people cannot be quantified exactly as only a small proportion of cases – usually incidents leading to death or severe injury - are reported and investigated. The summary report of the Research Study on Child Abuse and Domestic Violence in Turkey conducted under the programme of cooperation between the Government of Turkey and UNICEF and published in 2010 paints a detailed picture of the various levels of violence which ordinary children witness and suffer in their everyday lives, the effects which it has on them and the ways in which they seek to cope (http://panel.unicef.org.tr/vera/app/var/files/c/o/cocuk-istismari-raporu-eng.pdf). Aside from violence, child neglect – in some cases linked to factors such as the low level of education of parents and the burden of work on both parents - may be responsible for many accidents and injuries in and around the home and for gaps in the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of children.

The types of violence encountered vary with age and gender. While boys are more likely to face physical punishments and gang behaviour, for example, girls have a higher risk of sexual abuse and, as they grow older, begin to encounter gender-based domestic violence. Violence against children and young people exists in all parts of society and it is not easy to define those who are most at risk. However, parents with low levels of education may, on average, be quickest to resort to violence against their children. In addition, factors such as unemployment, income poverty, poor housing, disability, family separation and migration may contribute to pressures which put children and young people at greater risk of violence in the family. The same factors may also cause children and young people to spend more time on the street or in informal employment, where they may be exposed to violence from other children, employers or strangers. According to the results of a survey conducted in 2008, 51% of 7-18 year-olds said that they had been subject to emotional violence, 43% to physical violence, 23% to neglect and 3% to some form of sexual abuse within the past one year. The survey (http://panel.unicef.org.tr/vera/app/var/files/c/o/cocuk-istismari-raporu-eng.pdf) paints a detailed picture of the various levels of violence which ordinary children witness and suffer in their everyday lives, the effects which it has on them and the ways in which they seek to cope.

Home and school-based violence: According to the 2006 Family Structure Survey conducted by Turkstat and the Family and Social Research General Directorate (now part of the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies), 17% of fathers and 35% of mothers of children aged 3-17 admitted to beating their children at least occasionally (and in most cases “sometimes”) as a form of punishment. They also resorted to other forms of punishment that may be regarded as violent. Ten percent of mothers, for example, had confined their children in a room within the past year. In a 2008 survey (UNICEF Turkey/Genar: Türkiye Etkili anne Babalık Eğitimi üzerine bilgi/tutum/beceri araştırması kantitatif sonuçları taslak raporu (draft report on quantitative results of Kowledge-Attitude-Practices survey on Effective Parenting Education), 4,200 parents from 12 provinces in all regions were asked how they disciplined their children. Of these, 9.3 percent admitted to giving physical punishments, 7.3 percent to “frightening” them and 31.8 percent to shouting or raising their voices. Physical punishments were less likely to occur where mothers had a university education. Parents explain their use of violence against children in terms of “discipline” and “control”. Turkish proverbs extolling the benefits of violence in disciplining children and apprentices remain in popular use.

Awareness raising and education of parents appears to be one effective way of reducing violence against children in the home. Parents from disadvantaged backgrounds who take part in parenting courses regularly report that they have stopped beating their young children and learned to talk to them.

In schools, corporal punishment is banned but the scope of the ban may need to be made more explicit, and/or its enforcement may need to be improved, since school administrators and teachers are widely believed to resort to varying degrees of violence as a form of discipline, assertion of control or expression of anger. Teachers are not trained in positive disciplining. Cases of violence by teachers and school officials are sometimes reported in the press, but in many cases children and parents may feel unable to complain.

Violence by children against children, including bullying and gang-like behaviour, takes place most commonly in and around schools. In extreme cases, firearms and other weapons have been used, sometimes fatally. A child’s use of violence may be motivated by a desire to prove himself (or herself) or linked to the stealing of pocket money, food or other items. Underlying causes may include low self-esteem or other psychological factors including the psychological impacts of violence, abuse or neglect which the child himself suffers at home or elsewhere. In 2006-7, a parliamentary inquiry held into violent tendencies among children and young people and violence in and around schools found that many children found school environments unsafe (The report is available in Turkish at: http://www.tbmm.gov.tr/develop/owa/arastirma_onergesi_gd.onerge_bilgileri?kanunlar_sira_no=491).

A Strategy and Action Plan for Preventing and Reducing Violence in Educational Environments was adopted by the Ministry of National Education in 2006, covering the period 2006-2011. Various activities were foreseen involving schools, parents, children themselves and members of the local community such as traders and internet café owners. A protocol aimed at ensuring a safer environment in schools was later signed between the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of the Interior, Directorate General of Security (police). In 2012, the Government of Turkey informed the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that there had been a 32% decline in incidents of violence since 2006. It is important to ensure effective monitoring of all kinds of violence in and around primary and secondary schools.

Sexual violence and abuse: In the National Research on Violence against Women in Turkey published in February 2009 by the Directorate General for the Status of Women (now part of the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies), 7% of the women interviewed reported that they had experienced sexual abuse before reaching the age of 15. The nature of the abuse was not specified. The Research Study on Child Abuse and Domestic Violence in Turkey suggests that at least 10% of children between 7 and 18 have been witnesses to some form of sexual abuse, with at least 1% forced to look at pornographic material and at least 0.5% forced to engage in sexual behaviour such as touching or being touched. More and more cases of child abuse – typically perpetrated by fathers or other older relatives – have been reported in recent years. In 2009, the UNFPA and the Population Association published a report entitled Understanding the Problem of Incest in Turkey giving insights into this phenomenon. Incest is probably the most common form of sexual abuse against children and is known to affect girls and boys over long periods and from a very young age. As in other countries, incest and child abuse are abhorred – there have been attempts to linch suspected abusers – yet they appear to occur not infrequently in all parts of society.

Cases of children – especially but not exclusively adolescent girls - being raped or molested by strangers, or by people they knew and trusted, are reported in the Turkish media from time to time. There have also been allegations and formal complaints  of sexual violence and abuse in boarding schools and in detention. The effects of abuse and other forms of sexual violence against children range from temporary distress and sense of guilt to long-term injury and trauma and risky sexual activity or abuse of others later in life. Sexual violence and abuse can also have significant secondary effects. Rape victims may face rejection or even murder by their families (see also section on honour crimes, below). When criminal charges are brought, victims may face disturbing legal proceedings including repeated medical examinations and confrontations with their assailants (see also juvenile justice, below). Babies born as a result of rape or incest may be killed or abandoned or may grow up in very difficult circumstances.

Gender-based violence, honour crimes and forced suicides: Domestic violence against women is widespread. There has been much publicity in recent years about the need for more – and safer - women’s shelters, and about the failure of public authorities to prevent what appears to be a wave of killings by ex-husbands or ex-partners of women who have in many cases left them in order to escape from domestic violence. Girls who marry early, or at a relatively early age, and who lack education and economic independence, may be particularly likely to find themselves affected by domestic violence. A related issue is the custom of honour killings and forced suicides, whereby immediate family members kill women and girls suspected of being unchaste, or force them to commit suicide. Both the victims and the perpetrators of these crimes may be minors. Since 2004, honour killings have been classified  by the Penal Code as aggravated murders and higher sentences have been foreseen for those ordering them. It is also a crime to force someone into committing suicide: putting pressure on someone who is unable to grasp the meaning or consequences of his or her actions to commit suicide is characterized as murder. In 2005-2006, a parliamentary inquiry was held into honour killings and violence against women and children. In July 2006, the Prime Minister issued a circular to public bodies calling for the implementation of the report’s recommendations. Several relevant studies have been conducted. A Population Association/ United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)/United Nations Development Program (UNDP) study of 2005, although no longer up to date, provides valuable insights into patterns of honour killings. In 2006, Yakın Ertürk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, travelled to Southeast Turkey to investigate the high suicide level among girls and women, and concluded that these deaths might also be disguised honour killings or forced suicides, or otherwise related to the patriarchal order. Although data on honour crimes and forced suicides is not collected systematically, a report on the issue published by the Prime Ministry Human Rights Presidency in 2008 reported over 1,100 cases of “ethics and honour killings,” broadly defined, between 2003 and 2007, with no sign of any decline over time. Of these, 9% involved children (probably all girls, although this is not specified in the report). The killings took place in all parts of Turkey and were most intensive in Istanbul. A correlation was drawn to low levels of education and migration to large cities. There may be a link between urbanisation and the incidence of honour killings, as young women interact more freely with strangers while men seek to hold onto traditional privileges in the face of new hardships.

In spite of tougher sentencing, increased commitment and greater academic attention, honour killings and crimes continue to be reported, with girls under-eighteen among the victims. Particularly alarming are cases, not infrequently reported, where women and girls under threat of honour killings take refuge with public authorities but cannot be protected or are simply returned to their families. In 2006, the General Directorate for the Status of Women in the Office of the Prime Minister was given responsibility for coordinating the struggle against violence against women. In 2011, the General Directorate later became part of the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies. In March 2012, a new Law on the Protection of the Family and the Prevention of Violence against Women was adopted setting out roles and responsibilities for protecting women applying to the authorities for protection, and envisaging new protection centres, social assistance and detention for men not abiding by protection orders. Women’s NGOs. Considered the law insufficient (For a brief evaluation, see: http://www.tepav.org.tr/upload/files/1333026809-1.6284_Sayili_Ailenin_Korunmasi_ve_Kadina_Yonelik_Siddetin_Onlenmesine_Dair_Kanun_Ne_Getiriyor.pdfby).  In 2011, Turkey also signed and ratified the new Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

Overall strategy against violence: The 2006 UN Study on Violence against Children recommended that each state should: explicitly ban all forms of violence against children in all settings and develop a national comprehensive gender-sensitive strategy to prevent and address all forms of violence against children, in addition to collecting, analysing and disseminating data and conducting research in this area. The Council of Europe programme “Building a Europe for and with Children” (www.coe.int/children) has drafted guidelines for national strategies in the area of violence against children.

Following a Prime Minister’s directive issued in 2006 on violence against women and children, including honour crimes (Official Gazette No. 26218, July 4 2006), the General Directorate for Social Services and the Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK) was made responsible for coordinating actions to prevent violence against children given the task of developing an action plan for the prevention of violence against children. In 2011, SHÇEK was restructured under the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies.

Recent research conducted for UNICEF on system responsiveness to violence against children in 2012 identified a number of challenges faced by the child protection system in responding to violence against children ranging from the high social acceptance of violence against children to a lack of standard guidelines for identification, reporting and follow-up, and from reactive (rather than strategic) policy-making to a lack of services for victims. The research also points to gaps in coordination, information management, complaints mechanisms and monitoring. It makes a series of recommendations in all these respects.

8.3 Children in contact with the law: The number of children coming into contact with the law appears to have increased rapidly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and seems still to be increasing, according to the available records. The statistics published by the Judicial Record (Adli Sicil) department of the Ministry of Justice suggest that the number of children going on trial in all kinds of penal courts reached 1,723 per 100,000 head of the child population in 2010 compared to an average of about 1,530 in the preceding five years and 890 as recently as 2001. In 2010, according to the same source, 48,997 12-15 year-old boys, 5,583 12-15 year-old girls, 72,623 16-18 year-old boys and 5,998 16-18 year-old girls went on trial. Records of children received into security units for any reason published by the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat) in cooperation with the ministries of the Interior, Justice and Development suggest a steady increase from 132,592 in 2008 to 203,040 in 2011. Of these, the number alleged to have committed an offence – overwhelmingly boys – rose from 62,430 in 2008 to 84,916 in 2011, while the number of victims – the majority girls – was up from 44,153 to 88,582. Among the juveniles received into security units and alleged to have committed crimes, 51% had been received into security units before, usually more than once, according to the records (http://www.tuik.gov.tr/Kitap.do?metod=KitapDetay&KT_ID=12&KITAP_ID=46). All these records may require expert interpretation. While more information about the backgrounds of the children in conflict with the law would be welcome, they are observed to come mainly from urban low-income groups. Among these children, there is a relatively high incidence of poor school performance, exposure to violence and/or street life, or substance addiction.  

Juvenile justice is an area in which international standards are well developed. In addition to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, relevant standards include the Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules), the Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (the Riyadh Guidelines), the Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (the Havana Rules), and the Vienna Guidelines for Action on Children in the Criminal Justice System. In 2077, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a general comment (No. 10) on the rights of children in juvenile justice. There is also a United Nations Inter-Agency Panel on Juvenile Justice. The Council of Europe, of which Turkey is a member, adopted the European Rules for Juvenile Offenders subject to Sanctions or Measures in 2008, and has adopted a number of recommendations related to juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice. Between them, these documents set out detailed ground rules for criminal responsibility, the sanctions which may be imposed on children, the procedures to be followed, conditions in detention and all other relevant issues (See, for example, the 2009 Council of Europe document “Children and juvenile justice: proposals for improvements” by Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg at https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1460021#P99_12369)

Since 2005, Turkey has adopted or amended a series of basic laws (Child Protection Law, Penal Code, Law on Criminal Procedures, Law on Enforcement of Criminal and Security Measures and Law on Probation and Help Centres) in such a way as to include more child-specific provisions for juvenile offenders and child victims/witnesses of crime in line with international standards. New child courts and prosecutor offices have been established, and special alternative measures and mediation opportunities have been introduced. Provision has been made for the assignment of experts for child offenders/victims, social inquiry reports and compulsory legal aid. (For more comprehensive analysis, see UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS: Assessment of Juvenile Justice Reform Achievements in Turkey, July 2009 at http://www.unicef.org/ceecis/UNICEF_JJTurkey08.pdf). The age of criminal responsibility has been raised from 11 to 12. For children aged 12-14, criminal responsibility varies depending on the levels of their capacity to perceive the legal meaning and repercussions of their actions and of their ability to control their behaviour. The protective/supportive measures defined by the law may be applied to children under 12 as “child-specific security measures”, and are compulsory for children aged 12-14 found not to be criminally responsible. In 2006, after violent incidents in Southeast Turkey, amendments were made to the Anti-Terrorism Act depriving children aged 15-17 charged under the Act of their rights to benefit from child-specific judicial procedures including trial in child courts and reduced commuted sentences. However, this amendment was effectively reversed in 2010. The Judicial Reform Strategy prepared by Ministry of Justice on 2009 pledges to continue its activities to improve the juvenile justice system in line with international documents, the best interests of the child and the principle that imprisonment should be a last resort.

Efforts to protect children’s rights in the justice system are continuing. Under a two-year EU-funded project “Justice for Children”, UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Justice and the Justice Academy of Turkey to implement fair trial principles, prevent secondary victimization, ensure that deprivation of liberty is used as a measure of last resort, implement specialised and institutionalised in-service training programmes for juvenile justice professionals, and provide individualized quality rehabilitation services to all children deprived of their liberty.

Judicial procedures: Progress has been made in putting all of the recent legislative improvements into effect. In addition, the child units of the Turkish Police and Gendarmerie have continued to operate in a broadly child-friendly manner. There are also an increasing number of active Child Rights Commissions in local Bar Associations. Nevertheless, there remain significant bottlenecks in the implementation of juvenile justice. One of the most obvious of these is the insufficient number of juvenile courts. As of May 2011, there were 59 child courts and 12 child heavy penalty courts in a total of 33 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. The lack of child courts results in children being judged before general courts. In such cases, these courts follow child-specific procedures, but the courts lack specific expertise in juvenile justice and children may not be fully separated from adults. In the east of Turkey, only 8 provinces have at least one child court with a total of 11 child courts and 1 heavy penalty court. In the same way, there are many provinces in which child prosecutor offices have not been established, meaning that the specialisation of child prosecutors has not been achieved. Likewise, the role of social workers under courts is not yet fully institutionalised. Further, while the assignment of a lawyer is compulsory for juvenile offenders/victims, incentives for lawyers are insufficient, and the quality of service is not as high as expected, due to a lack of in-service training.

Alternative sentences and probation: The alternative sentences and judicial control remedies foreseen by law are executed by probation services, sometimes in coordination with other government institutions providing relevant services. As of May 2011, 7,179 children were benefiting from probation services including alternative sentences and judicial control. However, the lack of follow-up to court orders concerning minors means that the full potential of alternative measures cannot be experienced and demonstrated nationwide.

Detention periods and numbers of children in detention: The large proportion of children in pre-trial detention is a major source of concern. On the one hand, it has not been possible to implement widely the mediation system and other diversion mechanisms foreseen in the new Criminal Procedures Law and the Child Protection Law. On the other hand, the duration of trials remains very long. The average duration of trial was 414 days in child courts and 502 days in child heavy penalty courts in 2009. As of December 2011, a total of 2,334 children (overwhelmingly boys) were in detention. Of these, 1,924 were in pre-trial detention, 195 were awaiting the results of appeals and 215 had been convicted.

Distribution of children in prisons and detention houses by age, sex and stage of trial (December 2011)


Pre-trial detention

Awaiting appeal









Age 12-15







Age 16-18














Source: Written replies of the Government of Turkey to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, April 2012 (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC_C_TUR_Q_2-3_Add1.pdf)

In addition to children suspected or convicted of crimes, about 300 small children of imprisoned women live in women’s prisons along with their mothers. The rights of these children, including the rights to health and development, may be significantly compromised as a result of unmet physical needs and limited opportunities for learning and socialisation. Some of these children are able to attend crèches or child day care centres within or outside the prisons. In December 2011 a protocol was signed between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of National Education for the provision of free preschool education to children aged 3-5 living in prisons with their mothers.

Conditions in detention: Conditions in detention vary from institution to institution. In some cases, there are complaints of poor physical conditions, overcrowding and understaffing. The government has an ambitious construction programme of detention centres for minors, to avoid current overcrowding and promiscuity – with the risk that better physical infrastructure will lead to an increased resort to detention.

The development and implementation by the Ministry of Justice of various training programmes in recent years has increased understanding of international human rights norms among administrators, wardens and professional staff and enhanced their ability to implement them, thereby improving the treatment of children in detention – although it cannot yet be said that every staff member in contact with children has received such training. In addition, the Ministry has developed a case management model for children deprived of their liberty. This model, now known as the “Individualized Treatment System” (BISIS), aims to specify the individual needs of every child and should be used to develop and implement an individual plan based on this needs analysis. The system has been piloted in four institutions since 2008, covering approximately 15 per cent of the children who are in detention, and is planned to be expanded nationwide.

Detention centres and penal institutions are visited and inmates are interviewed by Prisons Monitoring Boards and representatives of Bar Associations, in addition to regular administrative inspections and ad hoc inspections by members of provincial and district human rights boards and Parliament’s Human Rights Committee. Nevertheless, reports of violations of the rights of children are not uncommon, and there is a lack of safe and secure channels for reports of abuse, torture or other complaints from children in custody (or under the responsibility of state officials in other contexts). Conditions for children in detention became a major public concern in February 2012 after the media focused on sexual abuse among boys in a detention centre in Pozanti, Adana. As a result, the centre was closed and the boys were transferred to an Ankara detention centre.

Victims and witnesses: To avoid child victims having to testify repeatedly, it is envisaged that children should be asked to make a statement only once, with an expert (medical doctor, psychologist or teacher) present, and that their statements should be recorded on video. The infrastructure needed to implement these procedures is not yet available at all court rooms or police stations where it may be needed, but will be largely developed in 2013-2014 as part of a nationwide EU supported Justice for Children project. Over the past decade, seven university-based child protection centres have been modelled and established throughout Turkey in order to conduct multi-disciplinary examination, expertise and referral of child victims, including as part of judiciary processes. A network of Child Examination Centres (ÇIM) is also being extended, as part of the public health sector’s contribution to these child protection efforts.

8.4 Children without parental care: The care of children deprived of parental care is a leading child rights issue in many countries, where it has been common for children to be brought up in institutions. The rights of children without parental care are set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2009, the UN General Assembly adopted Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children (http://www.unicef.org/protection/alternative_care_Guidelines-English.pdf).  The Guidelines encourage efforts to maintain children with their families, where possible. When this is not in the child’s best interest, the State is responsible for protecting the rights of the child and ensuring appropriate alternative care: kinship care, foster care, other forms of family-based or family-like care, residential care or supervised independent living arrangements.

Recourse to alternative care should only be made when necessary, and in forms appropriate to promote the child’s wellbeing, aiming to find a stable and safe long term response, including, where possible, reuniting the child with their family.  Evidence shows that the quality of alternative care is critical to child well-being. Children in long-term residential care are at risk of impaired cognitive, social and emotional development (particularly for those below the age of three).

In Turkey, children whose parents are deceased or who are unable, unwilling or unfit to look after them, and whose care is not undertaken by suitable relatives, may be placed in residential institutions attached to the Child Services General Directorate of the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies (prior to 2011: the Prime Ministry General Directorate for Social Services and the Child Protection Agency). About 14,000 children are currently in the residential care of the General Directorate (Current statistics are available via http://www.cocukhizmetleri.gov.tr). This figure includes about 600 children receiving residential rehabilitation in institutions for children who have been victims of crime, or dragged into crime (but not children detained or sentenced to custodial sentences by courts, who are in Ministry of Justice institutions). According to data provided by the Government of Turkey to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC_C_TUR_Q_2-3_Add1.pdf), the main reasons why children were taken into care in 2011 were “multiple reasons”, “physical and emotional abuse”, “social and economic poverty”, “sexual abuse”, “missing child”, “divorce”, “loss of a parent” and “juvenile delinquency”, in that order. Conditions, facilities and opportunities for children in residential care institutions have been a source of concern in the past. In recent years, the General Directorate has been improving the quality of its children’s homes and hostels, notably by reducing the numbers of children per room and introducing new, friendlier/smaller types of home known as “affection homes” and “child houses”. In addition, it has developed minimum standards for children without parental care, to apply not only to its own institutions but to all situations where children are away from their parents overnight, and is starting to implement these. Staff profiles, child rights awareness, administrative procedures, physical conditions and hygiene are among the issues covered in the minimum standards. Together with ongoing improvements in physical conditions and staffing, the implementation of the minimum standards will - provided they are fully implemented and monitored (including in the affection homes and child houses) - help to enhance the care, school performance, self-esteem, socialisation and life skills of the resident children, as well as to eliminate cases of violence and abuse towards and among children. Under the legislation of 2011 establishing the Ministry for the Family and Social Policies, child care services are to be decentralised to the provinces within the next five years.

De-institutionalisation, foster care and adoption: Society has regarded- and to some extent continues to regard -  residential child care as a satisfactory way for the state to fulfil its duty towards orphans and towards children whose families abandon or mistreat them in any way or put them at risk, or who are incapable of taking care of them or simply too poor to do so. However, children in families receive more stimulation and individual attention, and have a better chance of reaching their full potential, than children in even the best of residential institutions. This is particularly important for infants and young children at an early stage in their development. Aware of this, the General Directorate has for several years aimed at reducing the number of children living in institutions both by supporting families so that they can care for their children at home, and by promoting foster care and adoption. There are approximately 10,000 adopted children in Turkey and over 1,000 in paid or voluntary foster care. Clear rules for adoption are set out in the Turkish Civil Code. However, procedures can be slow, adoption remains largely limited to babies, and girls are generally preferred for both adoption and foster-parenting, although the majority of children in care are boys. Adoption, where the parents officially take full responsibility for the child, appears to be regarded positively in society, although it is not immediately thought of as an alternative for parents unable to have children of their own. In the case of foster-parenting (paid and voluntary), relations between natural and foster parents can be problematic. Even if they receive tailored parenting education, foster parents and natural parents and relatives to whom children are returned may also need more information and ongoing support.

Outstanding issues: There have been calls for changes in custody laws to permit the state to take custody of children, so as to avoid the conflict of interest which arises when the child’s legal guardian is also the body responsible for childcare, and ensuring that there is somebody to represent the child vis-à-vis the latter if necessary. Although a system is in place for finding jobs, concern is sometimes expressed about the problems faced by children without parental care who leave residential institutions upon reaching maturity or completing their education. The issue of children who go missing from institutions, and may then find themselves at risk of violence, abuse or exploitation, is raised in public opinion from time to time. The care of disabled children, who are often resident together with adults in homes for the disabled, remains a challenge, due to the importance of having sufficient qualified and specialised staff, and the high level of home support needed if the disabled are to be deinstitutionalised. More information disaggregated by age group is needed on the reasons why disabled persons are in institutions and the quality of care they receive. These matters may be particularly critical for the mentally disabled.

In its concluding observations of June 2012, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Turkey should : (a) continue its efforts to improve the conditions for children deprived of parental care, in particular by providing more qualified professionals and effective monitoring of conditions for such children; (b) consider conducting an impartial evaluation of the child care system and the de-institutionalization process so far, with a view to identifying both good practices and areas where adjustment may be necessary. It also drew attention to the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children annexed to the United Nations General Assembly resolution 64/142 of December 20, 2009.

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