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9.5 Children and young people growing up amid political violence

Children in these most-affected locations are also more likely than children in other regions to witness acts of warfare, terrorism, violence during demonstrations or other kinds of violence at first hand, to live lives circumscribed by security concerns, to suffer the loss of loved ones – or be separated from them for one reason or another - and to be exposed to heated political debate, hatred, political funerals and similar disturbing discourses and events. All these circumstances have potential implications for their psychological well-being. Children of, or related to, security and other personnel employed in the region may experience similar cases.

Among all Turkey’s children, boys and girls growing up in the places most affected by political violence experience some of the deepest poverty and deprivation. Economically, the conflict has contributed to the loss of countless rural livelihoods since the 1990s. Investment has been discouraged, exacerbating development deficits caused by geography and history, low levels of education and high fertility rates. Public services are affected too. In the case of education, some schools have been targeted by the violence; others have had to be closed from time for security reasons. Boycotts or local tensions sometimes prevent children from attending school. Teachers are often inexperienced, unprepared or absent, and there is a high turnover of staff. Economic conditions, poor school performance and inadequate facilities may combine to reduce incentives for continuing with one’s education. Yet a strong basic education system is vital for children in a region where preschool education is generally inaccessible, where children may start school with minimal knowledge of the language of education, and where girls face discriminatory norms, and in some cases early or forced marriage and the threat of honour crimes.

Children and young people in the same areas frequently take part in demonstrations/riots (the so-called “stone-throwing children”). This exposes them to accidents and injuries, police violence and possible detention and trial on heavy charges with long periods of pre-trial detention. There have been cases of children dying as a result of missiles used by one side or the other during demonstrations. Adolescent boys are most likely to be involved. A high proportion of children in conflict with the law in Turkey are apprehended on such occasions. Prosecutors may regard the children as terrorists and demand very long sentences. Conditions during arrest and detention may also be worse than in other parts of the country.

Young people in the places most intensively affected by the political violence can also be recruited into the PKK. A study of the backgrounds of 1,362 PKK militants who lost their lives between 2001 and 2011 suggests that recruitment begins before the age of eighteen (contrary to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Children in Armed Conflict, to which Turkey is a party), and that while the majority of recruits are boys, some of the youngest are girls. The study (http://www.tepav.org.tr/upload/files/haber/1330518344-5.RESEARCH_RESULTS.pdf) was carried out by Nihat Ali Özcan, an analyst with the Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV, and presented to the Human Rights Committee of Parliament in early 2012.  Recruitment into the PKK brings with it a very high probability of death in action. Children can also be used as bombers, couriers and human shields.  

Of the above issues, those related to political tensions, violent demonstrations and PKK recruitment may additionally affect children who live in neighbourhoods with high concentrations of Kurdish migrants in cities and towns outside the East and Southeast. Such migrants are in some cases politically radicalised and/or regarded with suspicion or enmity by other citizens or groups.

There is a lack of research concerning how these challenges are experienced and how families and children try to overcome or mitigate them. Security agencies and other public authorities have responded with information campaigns, cultural and social activities, trips and excursions and outreach to families (See the written replies of the Government of Turkey to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child of March 2012, paragraphs 106-110 at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC_C_TUR_Q_2-3_Add1.pdf). However, the impact of such activities and the effectiveness in this regard of other public services has not been measured.

Children were also among the first to be affected by tensions on the Turkey-Syria border. Four children from the town of Akçakale in Şanlıurfa were killed by Syrian artillery in September 2012. 

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