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9.3 Children and young people in poor urban areas

Children or young persons in poor urban areas of Turkey face some of the same difficulties as poor children in rural areas, as well as many different ones. Their parents too are likely to have low incomes and low levels of education, and may not always be able to meet their basic needs, including adequate accommodation and a balanced diet. Employment in poor urban areas is often casual and unpredictable, creating an additional dimension of insecurity: the Turkey Welfare Monitoring Study sponsored jointly by TEPAV, UNICEF and the World Bank during the 2009 recession showed that the income of poor urban households had fallen, that they were reducing food expenditures and that a significant number had become indebted and/or lost access to gas, electricity and water supplies due to unpaid bills (http://www.unicef.org.tr/en/content/article/319/2009-09-29-economic-crisis-affecting-the-welfare-of-families-in-turkey.htm or, in Turkish, http://www.unicef.org.tr/tr/content/article/318/2009-09-29-ekonomik-kriz-turkiye-de-ailelerin-refahini-etkiliyor.htm). Although most parents place a high value on education, some children are still obliged to work from an early age in family enterprises like shops or restaurants, on the street or in small workshops and similar places (As a result of migration to the cities, a part of the seasonal migratory agricultural labour force, including children, is also now normally resident in urban areas). While sanitation, utilities, public transport, ECD services, leisure facilities and access to the Internet, for example, are more widely available in poor urban areas than in rural areas, poor children and young people are unable to benefit, or unable to benefit fully, due to the costs involved. Safe places to walk and play may be hard to find due to traffic and construction work. Pollution and noise may pose health risks. Such environments are particularly unsuitable for disabled persons. Urban infrastructure and public services have not always kept pace with the growth of the population, particularly in districts affected by rapid migration from rural areas or other parts of the country. Accordingly, while children in rural areas may attend school in classes made up of children of different grades (which teachers are generally not well prepared to teach), children in poor urban areas may find themselves in classes of 50 or more children, and in schools which operate on a two-shift system, with some attending in the morning and others in the afternoon. Depending on their age and gender, children and young people from poor urban areas face the greatest risk of street life, conflict with the law, addictions and other risk behaviour, and violence and abuse by strangers. 

Most districts of cities and towns in poor regions and provinces, and many districts of even the most prosperous cities can be described as poor urban areas. Physically, they may consist of shanty-town dwellings, older houses or apartment buildings, or even new but cheap and/or overcrowded blocks of flats. They may be run-down inner-city districts facing demolition under the govenrment’s giant “urban transformation” project, or districts far removed from the city centre. In some cases, the populations still consist largely of relatively new migrants who are still learning to adapt to urban conditions. The populations of poor urban districts also differ in terms of their ethnic composition, family size and sources of income, all of which affect the challenges which the children and young people face. In view of all these variations, policies for supporting poor urban communities and their children are best determined by local authorities on the basis of local and participatory needs analysis.

Friendly cities?

Municipalities in Turkey are obliged by law to set up consultative urban councils, which include assemblies of women, youth and the disabled. In 2010-11, a coalition of NGOs led by Youth Habitat (Gençlik icin Habitat – now known as the Habitat Development and Governance Society) worked with a number of these assemblies to assess the child, youth and women-friendliness of several cities and urban districts across the country. Funded by the Sabancı Foundation, the NGOs received support from the National Democracy Institute (NDI), a research group, and used an adapted version of UNICEF Child Friendly Cities methodology developed with UNICEF support. Among the cities and districts assessed were Adana, Cankaya (Ankara), Denizli, Diyarbakir, Giresun, Izmir, Kocaeli, Maltepe (Istanbul), Ordu and Van. The study provides a snapshot of the concerns of urban residents about the cities in which they live. Air pollution, the uncertain quality of drinking water, the condition of public toilets and emergency preparedness were among the issues commonly raised. Drugs and gangs were widely perceived as threats. Many women felt unsafe when walking on the streets. Women also pointed to a lack of child day care services and places for caring for old people. Residential and school buildings, public spaces and facilities for sports and hobbies were frequently criticised as unsuitable for the disabled. Lack of information was another recurring theme, including public information on available health and social services, advice for parents on their children’s nutrition, development, safety and mental health, and career advice for young people. The research also pointed to very low public participation in local/urban government and little community involvement in schools.



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