Children in the Population
A young, aging population: Turkey had a population of 73,722,988 at the end of 201030. After decades of rapid growth, a downturn in fertility since the 1990s has caused the annual growth rate of the population to slow to 1.3-1.4 percent31 - still high by European standards - from 1.7 percent in 2000. Life expectancy was 75.3 for women and 71.1 for men according to 2006 estimates32. The population is still quite young with a median age of just under 30 for women and just under 29 for men. People aged 0-14 make up 26 percent of the population, compared to approximately 16 percent within the EU population.33 Approximately 22.6 million people – or 30.7 percent of the population - are children by the UN definition, i.e. under the age of 1834. However, the trends outlined above mean that the population is gradually becoming less young. Assuming these trends continue, the proportion of children in the population will decline significantly in the years ahead, while the proportion of adults of working age will increase. Already, a change in the structure of the population is clearly visible, with the lower end of the population pyramid narrowing. The age group with the highest number of people is the 10-14 age group, at 6.57 million.
Population of Turkey by age group and sex (% of total population), 2010
Favourable dynamics? The period until 2025 is often labelled a “demographic window of opportunity” for Turkey, during which the socio-economic development process can accelerate, subject to successful education and employment policies. During this period, the share of the population of working age in the total population will be rising, and conversely the dependency ratio will be falling. After 2025, the dependency ratio is expected to start to rise again due to growth in the numbers of people over 65 as a proportion of the total population. In the shorter term, the relative decline in the number of young children should make it possible for Turkey to increase the resources, public and private, which it expends on enhancing the health and development experiences of each one of its boys and girls in the early years of their lives – a period which is crucial for their future lives. In other words, resources need not be spread so thinly, either in families or in public services like education. Clearly, good policy making is necessary to make the most of this opportunity. For adolescents and young people, the situation is not yet so favourable. Boys and girls in these age groups continue to form crowded cohorts. The parental attention and government resources available to many members of this generation may still be limited, together with their opportunities for self-development, education and work. Yet they are now at an age when the course of their lives as adults will be set, and when they face important risks.
|A Photo by Oktay Üstün|
Regional variations: The gradual decline in fertility, population growth and the proportion of young children in the population shows important geographical variations. While it is falling in all regions, fertility remains much higher in some places than in others. Among the five broad geographical regions identified for the purposes of the Demographic and Health Survey, the East has a fertility rate of 3.26 compared to a range of 1.73 to 2.20 for the other regions.35 Data disaggregated by smaller regions, individual provinces or districts would almost certainly show steeper variations. This means that there remain regions and sections of society in which population growth is rapid, the average age is low and the numbers of children remain very high compared to the population as a whole – a situation which tends to stretch the resources of families, communities and the public authorities alike. In the Southeast and some Eastern provinces, under-eighteens make up 40-50 percent of the populace36, whereas in several smaller provinces in western Turkey this ratio falls to 20-25 percent.
Populations of İzmir and Şanlıurfa by age group and sex (% of total population), 2010
Migration: Another critical demographic phenomenon is internal migration, particularly from rural areas to the larger cities. The urban population accounts for three quarters of the whole population today, compared to 44 percent as recently as the 1980 census.37 Approximately half of the households in Turkey do not live in the village or town where they were born. Of those aged between 15 and 19, 38 percent have experienced at least one migration. Migration to urban areas may improve access to better social services in the long-term, but in the short-term the supply of infrastructure and services, including schools and other services for children, may be unable to keep up with the pace of population growth. Meanwhile, families and children take time to adjust to urban environments, and to learn how to access services and cope with risks. Poor migrant families may remain in “ghettos”. Their children may have to work, or may have difficulty at school, or may come to spend a large part of their time on the street. All these phenomena have been amply observed in numerous cities in the Southeast, South and West of Turkey following the rapid migration of an estimated 1.1-1.2 million persons38 away from mostly rural parts of Southeast Anatolia for security reasons between 1986 and 2005. Some of today’s poor urban communities came into being as a consequence of this particular shift of population. One of the efforts being made to mitigate conditions is the ongoing EU-financed Internal Migration Integration Project (İGEP) being carried out by a consortium of NGOs and consultants with municipalities in Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara and Bursa. Migration processes may now be slowing, providing an opportunity for better social integration and provision of services - as well as for turning attention to those “left behind” in villages or other undeveloped areas. However, migrants continue to display different social characteristics from more settled members of the population, and there is still considerable scope for rural-urban and East-West migration.
Cultural variety: A further characteristic of the population which may have implications for children’s lives and for all efforts to improve their well-being is ethnic and religious variety. Although only the small Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Armenian communities are officially recognized as minorities, a range of cultural characteristics are present. According to different sources, 10 to 23 percent of the population is Kurdish. Kurds constitute the majority of the population in many of the Eastern and Southeastern provinces, and a high proportion of recent migrants to several major cities. Frequently, therefore, economic disadvantage and Kurdish ethnicity overlap39. Some Kurds especially women in rural areas and young children do not speak Turkish well. The issue of specific social and cultural rights for Kurds, including the use of Kurdish vernaculars in the state and public sphere, is very topical, and some Kurdish language broadcasting has been permitted. Other cultural elements range from Circassian and Laz to Arab and Syriac.
Roma children in urban settings
The Roma make up a section of the urban poor in several Turkish cities. Their total numbers have been estimated at anywhere between 0.5 million and 2.5 million. The vast majority have a settled life-style. Typically, they are concentrated in urban neighbourhoods where housing may be overcrowded and unsanitary but social solidarity persists. The poverty of Roma children, like other poor children, may be compounded by large family size, and they may be expected or obliged to work – often on the street – in order to earn income for their families.
Sources: Edirne Roma Association/European Roma Rights Centre/Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly: We are here! Discriminatory exclusion and struggle for rights of Roma in Turkey, 2008.
Family structure: In Turkey, marriage (including religious marriages) is almost universal and children are almost always born in wedlock. The divorce rate, although rising, remains relatively low. As a result, the great majority of children live with both natural parents. In this respect, children in Turkey may be considered more fortunate than children in other European countries, where one-parent families are more commonplace. Nevertheless, more than a million children arguably face a higher level of various risks due to living in a single-parent family or to temporary or permanent separation from their parents. Other children may be affected by living with parents who do not get on well but who do not divorce due to economic reasons or social pressures.
According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey conducted by Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies, 93 percent of children live with both of their natural parents. Five percent live with only one parent (usually the mother) due to the death of the other parent, separation or divorce. Two percent live with neither of their natural parents, although in most cases their parents are alive. As one would expect, these percentages vary with the age of the child. At the age of 2-4, for example, 97% of children are still living with both natural parents, but by the age of 15-17 this ratio falls to 86%. Over 5% of children in this age group are not living with either natural parent even though both of them are alive. There are also some small but significant variations between social groups and geographical regions, which may be linked to differences in life expectancy of parents, in separation and divorce rates and in the inclination (and opportunity) to send adolescent children to live with relatives while they study or work. Children in the wealthiest quintile of the population, for example, are most likely to be living with both natural parents (94%), but also most likely to be living with their mothers only (5%), whereas very few live with their fathers only or not with a natural parent. In the East and Southeast, the most common reason for children not to be living with both natural parents is the death of the father. Children in middle income groups in the East and West Marmara regions (but not Istanbul), the Aegean and Middle Anatolia are the most likely to be living with neither natural parent even though both are alive.
About 25 percent of children (more in rural areas) are estimated to live in extensive households. These take various forms, requiring clear and appropriate definition, but most typically consist of members of three generations (usually meaning that one or more of the child’s grandparents is living with the family). Extensive households are more common in rural areas. Little is known scientifically about the impact of such differences in family structure on outcomes for children. One may surmise that extensive households can have positive impacts in the form of added care and attention and the sharing of resources (such as pensions). However, they may also give added cause for conflict (Tensions between women and their mothers-in-law are considered commonplace) and put pressure on financial resources, space, home facilities and the attentions of the main care-giver(s).
Family size: Several million children in Turkey may be disadvantaged because they live in large households. It is estimated that 80-85 percent of children have at least one brother or sister and approximately one-quarter have more than two siblings. Combined with family structure data described above, this means that the majority of children (estimated approximately 65 percent) in Turkey now live in households with at most five people.43 This ratio suggests that the majority of children can expect to receive adequate attention and resources from their parents. The remaining one third of children, however, are in greater danger of missing out on these. Moreover, having a large number of siblings (living in a more crowded household) usually coincides with other possible sources of disadvantage, such as economic and geographic disparities and low educational level of parents. According to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, for example, while about 16% of households have more than five members and 3.2% more than 9 members nationwide, these ratios rise to 24% and 6.6% in rural areas. Meanwhile, the average fertility of women who have not completed even a primary education is 3.28, falling to 1.39 for those with an 8-year primary education44.
Household survey data suggest that 18 percent of children in Turkey do not have any siblings – possibly an increasing trend, especially among the more educated parents. Being the only child has been associated with overindulgence and overprotection of parents and deprivation of some learning experiences in the absence of siblings. While the evidence in other countries is mixed,45 there may be a need for more scholarly work on only children in the Turkish context. Social environments, in which children of the same age can gather, such as daytime care centres and pre-school education institutions, may be especially important for children without any siblings
 According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat), the crude divorce rate in 2010 was 1.62 divorces for every 1,000 members of the population, with much lower rates in less developed Eastern provinces (albeit partly due to younger populations) and somewhat higher rates in more developed western provinces.
 Education Reform Initiative (ERG): Eğitimde Eşitlik: Politika Analizi ve Öneriler [Equality in Education: Policy Analysis and Proposals], 2009.
 Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat), based on the Address-Based Population Registration System (ADNKS). In line with the age structure of the population, women are slightly outnumbered by men, making up 49.8 percent of the population.
 Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat) data based on the Address-Based Population Registration System (ADNKS) puts the rate of growth of the population at 1.31 percent in 2008, 1.45 percent in 2009 and 1.60 percent in 2010. No official explanation has been given for the uneven and rising rate of population growth, but it appears to stem mainly from the inclusion in the population of persons not previously identified by the system.
 Eurostat, Population: Main tables, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/population/data/main_tables
 The ratio is about 30 percent in urban areas (provincial and district centres) and 32.5 percent in rural areas (other towns and villages).
 Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies: Demographic and Health Survey 2008. Two other valuable publications of the same Institute, currently available in Turkish, are “Demographic Transition in Turkey”, which gives a detailed overview of demographic trends in Turkey with a longer-term perspective, and “Fertility, Reproductive Health and Ageing in Turkey”, which contains a more detailed analysis of fertility trends by population sub-group.
 According to the population data for 2010, at least 50 percent of the population is below the age of 20 in the provinces of: Ağrı, Bitlis, Hakkari, Mardın, Muş, Siirt, Şanlıurfa, Van, Batman and Şırnak, compared to 34 percent for the whole population. In Diyarbakır, the proportion of under-20s is 48 percent.
 Hacettepe University Institute of Population Studies: Survey on Migration and Displaced Population, 2006
 Information in this paragraph is partly based on Minority Rights Group International: Forgotten or Assimilated? Minorities in the Education System of Turkey, 2009.
 Calculated using data from the Household Labor Force Survey 2008 by Dr. Sezgin Polat (Galatasaray University).
 Hacettepe University Institute for Population Studies, Turkish Demographics and Health Survey 2008
 Ruut Veenhoven and Maykel Verhouten, The Well-Being of Only Children, Adolescence, Vol. 24, No. 93.