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7.1 Lives in transition

The importance of adolescence and youth in the life of any individual is hard to overstate. In its General Comment of 2003 on “Adolescent health and development in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child”, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defined adolescence as “a period characterized by rapid physical, cognitive and social changes, including sexual and reproductive maturation; the gradual building up of the capacity to assume adult behaviors and roles involving new responsibilities requiring new knowledge and skills.” Oral communication skills, control of emotions, and knowledge about how to access public services, for example, are gained during adolescence and early youth. Adolescents and young people need time and space for leisure, learning, thinking and socialisation, coupled with access to information so that they can avoid the risks attached to social, physical and reproductive maturation, and decent opportunities to participate in adult life, including economic activities. It is during these years that young people are most likely to develop habits, undergo experiences and/or make choices which determine their future health, well-being, careers, relationships and roles in society. The right kinds of attention and services can maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks.

In Turkey, it is hard to say that young people have received sufficient attention and support. Official and public attitudes towards young people once emphasised their ideal roles as protectors of the Republic and catalysts of modernisation, then stressed the need to protect them from divisive ideologies, and later regretted their perceived apolitical and consumerist habits (Halil Nalçaoğlu: Gençlik ve Yeni Toplumsal İletişim Ethos’u: Yanılsamalar, Bulgular ve Spekülasyonlar [Youth and the New Social Communications Ethos: Illusions, Findings and Speculations], in Umut Sarp Zeylan, ed.: Eğitimin Değeri ve Gençlik [The Value of Education and Youth], 2007, pages 91-93). In recent years, the government has been moving towards the adoption of a policy on youth but progress has not been rapid.

The extent to which parents assist, or complicate, the transition to adulthood varies with factors like the survival of the parents, their relations with one another, and their level of education. Many parents are not well educated and may be largely unprepared to recognise and respond to - or talk to their children about - the issues that arise during adolescence. This problem may begin at an early age when parents shower love and affection on their children and/or are able to discipline them with the threat of violence, but pay little attention to orienting them towards useful spare time activities and interests, setting consistent rules, or winning respect by explaining and discussing. The WHO European Health Behaviour of School Children (HBSC) survey for 2009-10 (http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/163857/Social-determinants-of-health-and-well-being-among-young-people.pdf) suggests that children of lower socioeconomic status may have the most difficulty communicating with their mothers (p.15) and that by the age of 15 girls’ ability to talk to their fathers about important issues is quite low (p. 25). Adults who struggle to meet their children’s basic needs, whose children are more educated than themselves, or whose children are growing up in an environment very different from that in which they themselves grew up may find it particularly hard to influence them from adolescence onwards. Some parents are over-protective and over-tolerant. Parents who have developed unrealistically high expectations may have extra difficulty understanding poor performance at school or university, or perceived disobedience or irresponsibility, and may respond with verbal abuse, excessive discipline or loss of interest.

Numbers and status of young people: A high proportion of the Turkish population is currently passing through these critical phases of the life cycle. As of the end of 2011, within a total population of 74.7 million, there were 6.2 million 20-24 year-olds, 6.3 million 15-19 year-olds and as many as 6.6 million 10-14 year-olds. This last cohort constituted the largest single tranche of the population. Adolescents and young people can therefore be said to make up at least a quarter of society, and it will be several years before this situation starts to change significantly. The circumstances in which young people find themselves during these critical years of their lives vary greatly, and depend to a large extent on their social backgrounds (sections 2 and 3), and their experiences of the primary and secondary education system (section 6). Gender is also a very important determinant of the experience of adolescence and youth, since common cultural values distinguish heavily between the expected roles and behaviour of girls and of boys in this age group.

Turkey’s official employment statistics suggest that 36% of the non-institutional population aged between the ages of 15 and 24 were in full-time education or training in 2011, while 32% were in work and 32% were neither in work nor in education or training. The proportion of young people in education or training may rise in the years ahead as secondary education becomes compulsory and university places continue to expand. Naturally, it is those at the younger end of the age group who are most likely to be in education. Similarly, it is those at the older end of the age group who are most likely to be in work. These figures slightly exaggerate the number of young people who are neither in education nor in work - particularly for men - since the non-institutional population does not include military personnel (mostly conscripts, aged 20 and above) or students living in dormitories or student hostels. Nevertheless, the number of young people who, at any one time, are neither studying full-time nor engaged in a full-time job is very high. Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union, puts the proportion of 15-24 year-olds Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEETs) in Turkey in 2011 at 29.6%. This figure is the highest in Europe and more than double the EU average of 12.9% (Macedonia and Bulgaria also have rates above 20%, while Greece, Ireland, Spain and Italy have rates of 17-20%). Many of these “invisible” young people may be excluded from opportunities, information and social interaction to a greater or larger extent, with potentially significant consequences for their future lives.


Source: calculated from Turkstat Household Labour Force survey (2011 annual data)

The national employment statistics referred to above indicate clearly that 15-24 year-old women are less likely than men of the same age to be in education, much less likely to be in work – and much more likely to be neither in work nor in education or training. While most of the young men who are not working describe themselves as unemployed or at least in some sense available to work, as many as 28% of all young women declare themselves to be out of the workforce because they are engaged in domestic chores, presumably either as young housewives or as “ev kızı” (house girls). It is likely that the proportion of women who are neither in work nor in education increases towards the age of 24 while the proportion of men declines, as more men join the workforce than women. In addition, more young women than young men remain out of the workforce for personal reasons, possibly including caring for other family members. The proportions of young men and young women who are in education, in work, or neither, can be assumed to vary significantly between regions, rural and urban areas, and different social groups.

Workforce status of 15-24 year-olds (%)













Available for work but not actively seeking employment due to





 --other reasons




Not in workforce because only taking part in seasonal work




Not in workforce because engaged in domestic chores




Not in workforce because in education or training




Not in workforce because disabled or ill




Not in workforce for family or personal reasons




Not in workforce for other reasons








Source: calculated from Turkstat Household Labour force survey, 2011 annual data

Poverty and migration: Based on its 2010 Survey of Income and Living Conditions, Turkstat has calculated that 26.9% of persons aged 15-24 fall below the poverty line compared to 18.3% for the adult population (Turkstat: Youth in Statistics, 2011, p.91). Youth poverty is especially high among the rural population, the lower educated and the unemployed. For reasons such as study and job-seeking, the youth population is also a relatively mobile population. Using data from the Address-Based Population Registration System (ADNKS), Turkstat has calculated that 5.6% of the population aged 15-24 migrated between provinces between 2010 and 2011 – more than twice the rate for the adult population. On a net basis, Istanbul, the Marmara region in general and Ankara are attracting young people while other regions are losing them. 

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