Turkey reacts «unfounded allegations» and ask to revise and correct!
A new report focusing on the protection of children affected by the refugee crisis from sexual exploitation and abuse was presented today. Non-comprehensive data collection, inadequate reception conditions, problems with age verification and with identification of victims are among the key challenges identified.
While there is no aggregated data available on the total number of children affected by refugee crisis in Europe, the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children [ENOC]assesses that in 2015 at least 337,000 children were registered as asylum seekers, 88,300 of which were unaccompanied. The states surveyed have much more difficulties to provide data or estimates on the number of children who did not seek asylum.
As for the number of victims of sexual abuse or exploitation, only very few [See state replies from Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, Maltaand “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” ] out of 41 countries surveyed provided figures, while others said there were either no victims or they had no data to substantiate this. Most Parties acknowledged, however, that they are aware that there are more cases of sexual abuse than official numbers. This situation can be attributed both to the lack of capacity on the part of authorities, and to the non-reporting of the violence on part of children themselves.
“Underreporting of sexual abuse and exploitation of refugee children and identification of victims is a major challenge,” said the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland. “We realise the strain the refugee crisis has put on the member states’ authorities. However, we encourage governments to work with NGOs and set up effective data collection and child-friendly counseling services which will lead to better reporting of crimes and identification of victims”, he said.
The report focuses on children under 18 years of age. According to the Council of Europe’s Lanzarote Convention, in case of doubt, the victim should be considered a child and receive respective protection and assistance, pending age verification. Out of all countries surveyed, only Hungary does not follow this principle and treats such persons as adults which leaves them largely unprotected, also from sexual abuse. This is of major concern for the Lanzarote Committee that urges Hungary to take necessary legislative and other measures and ensure the application of the “benefit of doubt” principle.
The Lanzarote Committeeinvites the states to verify family links of the children with the adults who accompany them, or to verify who these adults are, if they are not their parents or primary care givers, in order to protect these children against possible sexual abuse or exploitation – either by these adults, or facilitated by them.
The Lanzarote Committee says all Parties should ensure that all persons, be they professionals or volunteer workers, who are in contact with refugee crisis-affected children be effectively screened, adequately trained, and should establish vetting practices in place.
The increased number of children affected by the refugee crisis also puts pressure on reception/accommodation facilities; children are often housed in sports halls, former military barracks or other temporary shelters. Insufficient lighting and the need to share sanitary and sleeping facilities with adults make children particularly exposed to sexual crimes and harassment. Besides, lengthy asylum procedures give an opportunity to offenders to target and groom children. The Lanzarote Committee invites Parties to ensure safe reception facilities and longer term placement solutions, for instance, in foster families.
Children should be provided with guardians who play a crucial role in building the necessary trust to help them overcome fear and cultural taboos, and enable disclosure of possible sexual exploitation and abuse. Telephone or online helplines should be established and therapeutic assistance provided. [The full text of the report will be published here by the end of the 6th of March 2017.]
Below we provide additional information about the paragraph in the last part of the Report of Replies to the Questionnaire of the Lanzarote Committee on the Protection of Refugee Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, which indicates that the number of early and forced marriages of Syrian refugee children in Turkey has alarmingly increased.
As we have pointed out in our previous note, this information is based neither on the official responses sent by our Central Authority, nor on any other substantial research. On the contrary, the fact that this assessment rests on certain rumours is stated also in the document, forming the basis of the report. For this reason, we would like to bring the following matters to your attention:
1. Trainings provided in our country to Syrian children for enabling them to protect themselves against sexual abuse:
According to the data provided by the Ministry of National Education, the state provides education to 60% of school-aged Syrian children in Turkey. This ratio is 94% for children of elementary school age.
The education, provided in our country to Syrian children is not limited only to formal education. Informal training and education are also provided. 237,509 people received vocational trainings during years 2015 and 2016. These trainings are being provided in collaboration with UNICEF, the EU and the World Bank. New schools are being built for Syrian children.
These children are taught Turkish language, they are being taught the skills of how to sustain themselves during their stay in our country and they are given vocational courses, too.
Apart from these; education, training and psychological consulting services are being provided to children forced into crime, they are being informed and educated on the matters of “hard living conditions and traumatic events, how to prevent an abuse”.
Additionally, the Ministry of Family and Social Policies provides these children with education in Turkish and Arabic languages on subject, among which there are:
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,
Safety, Security, Violence and Abuse, Discrimination, Child Labour, Child Marriages,
Important Institutions they could get help from.,
As evidenced above, we try to spread awareness among children, enabling them to defend themselves against child marriages and defend their rights in general.
2. Protective and Supportive Measures:
Within the scope of a Social and Economic Support (SED) service, the General Directorate for Social Assistance and the Foundation for Social Assistance and Solidarity, provide aid for needy families, who are unable to support their children and who do not receive any financial assistance from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. This service is open to and can be utilized by foreign citizens as well.
The purpose of the works, conducted in this regard, is to reduce the social cohesion problems experienced by Syrian children, to warn and teach them about the risks they are exposed to as well as the resources available in the society, to raise their awareness of their rights, and to increase tolerance and interaction among cultures.
The Ministry of Health provides awareness trainings to public servants and to people in general, who are in high probability of frequently interacting with refugee children, concerning negligence and abuse of children.
3. Works, conducted by the Directorate General of Immigration Services with regard to unaccompanied minors coming to our country
In Law No.6458 on Foreigners and International Protection, the term “unaccompanied minor” is defined as “a child who arrives on the territory of Turkey unaccompanied by an adult responsible for him or her, whether by law or by practice, or a child who is left unaccompanied after he or she has entered the territory of Turkey, and for as long as he or she is not effectively taken into the care of such an adult”. According to the Regulations on temporary protection, unaccompanied minors are placed in shelters under the coordination of the Ministry of Family and Social Policies.
The Directorate General of Immigration Services organizes training seminars about children left unaccompanied.
Through Law No.6458, the Directorate General of Immigration Services has set up within itself an Office of Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking and Regulations have been issued and enacted on the issue, aiming to prevent people from committing this crime and to provide support for its victims.
These Regulations treats forced marriages also as a form of human trafficking, so forced marriages are placed within the authority of the Office of Protection of Victims of Human Trafficking.
4. Investigation and Prosecution Proceedings
Notwithstanding whether the victim is a refugee in our country or a foreigner, these children are being subjected to the same domestic law procedures that are applied to Turkish citizens.
The same laws as those applied to regular Turkish citizens are being applied in our country to victim refugee children, notwithstanding the fact that they are foreigners.
Criminal investigation and prosecution proceeds are initiated by a report, complaint or by obtaining direct information that a forced or an early marriage has occurred. According to the legislation of the Republic of Turkey, early marriage constitutes sexual abuse of the child and is severely punished. Marriages below the age limit are not valid.
In conclusion, refugee children in our country are being provided with the necessary education services on early or forced marriage, needy children and their families are given financial and material assistance. We have the legislative capacity to start investigation process promptly and effectively as well as to punish the perpetrators severely once the authorities receive any information that such an act has occurred. Furthermore, information we have received from the security forces and other government institutions demonstrates that the allegations indicated in the report are unfounded. For this reason, we kindly ask the Committee to revise and correct these unfounded allegations in the report. [Full Opinion & Reaction of Turkey]