Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Child Labor Persists in Turkey, Deepens Gender Divide

The International Labor Organization (ILO) published its annual report on child labor last month. From Bianet:
According to the report, Turkey is the third among the sixteen countries studied in terms of the hours that child labourers work. Only following Mali and Senegal, girls in Turkey aged 5-14 work around 30 hours a week, while boys work over 25 hours.

The average for the sixteen countries is 20.2 hours for girls and 19.2 hours for boys.
According to 2006 data published by Bianet, around one million children in Turkey are working.

Child labor in Turkey has long been considered a problem (click here for an article from Today's Zaman), and the report is significant in drawing specific attention to the gender divide in childhood education. While Turkey is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperative Development (OECD), the eastern regions of the country lag far behind the much more developed west. While attempts have been made in recent years to address persistent poverty in Turkey's eastern regions, especially the Kurdish southeast, more could be done from a human rights angle in terms of ensuring that children be sent to school, especially young girls. Conditional cash transfers have proved moderately effective in addressing social problems associated systemic poverty, and hopefully the policy suggestions of the ILO will lend policymakers additional guidance.
A report published in Turkey on 11 June, produced by the Educatino Reform Initiative (ERG), there are 220,000 children aged 6 to 13 who are not registered for education in Turkey. Of these, 130,000 are girls, and 90,000 boys. Around 100,000 of the children not being educated are from central Anatolia and the southeast of the country. In addition, there are children who are not even registered as born, and have thus not been counted.

If a household is attached to a social security institution through work, this increases the probability of a child attending middle school (years 6-8) by 15 percent. However, around 54 percent of urban families have no steady income. This rate is at 84 percent in Gaziantep and 91 percent in Diyarbakır, in the southeast of the country.

At higher levels of schooling, the number of girls drop. While there are 96 girls to every 100 boys in primary 1, there are only 91 girls in 8th grade.

According to the child labour report of the Turkey Statistical Institute (TÜİK), six percent of Turkey's 6-17-year-old population is working. 66 percent of these are boys, and 34 percent girls. 41 percent work in agriculture, 28 in industyr, 23 in trade and 9 percent in the service industry.

The TÜİK report also warns that forcing children to work obstructs their education and calls for an integration of all children into the education system. (TK/AG)
DTP MP Sevahir Bayındır from Şırnak (in the southeast) recently proposed a parliamentary investigative commission be set up in response to the report. According to Bayındır,
As long as children are pushed out of education, child labour will continue. Because there are no up-to-date data showing that child labour in Turkey is decreasing, there is no wide-ranging data on child labour. There need to be policies and programmes created to solve the problem, and there needs to be research to obtain indepth information.

Child labour needs to be treated as a social problem, and mechanisms to collect data and monitor child labour need to be created urgently. The worst kinds of child labour need to be abolished, and an investigative committee needs to be formed in order to solve the problems of children working under the worst conditions in industry and agriculture.

Rural-urban migration, related adaptation problems and the industrialisation of agriculture have all put child labour onto the agenda. Families let their children work in the streets in order to raise their income. The underlying reasons for child labour are poverty, migration, traditional family structures, lack of education, unemployment, demand for cheap labour, insufficient work regulations and lack of implementation of existing regulations.
The ILO report can be downloaded here.

Halki Seminary Could Be Reopened Soon

(updated below)

From Hürriyet:
The Halki seminary on the island of Heybeliada is to be reopened, Culture Minister Ertuğrul Günay said, adding that they are searching for a formula to integrate the Orthodox theological school into Turkey’s university system. "Although we have not finalized a decision in the Cabinet, my personal impression is that we are going to open the seminary," said Günay, speaking on Kanal 24 television over the weekend.

Recalling that the functioning of the Halki seminary is not compatible with the Turkish university system, Günay maintained that work is underway to find a formula for its status. He explained that the question is whether the seminary would function like a university, which then has to be integrated into the Turkish university system, or if it would function like an autonomous private high school.

One of the latest proposals was for the seminary to become a private university under the auspices of a foundation, such as how Koç University was established under the auspices of the Vehbi Koç Foundation. The Heybeliada University would be set up under the Ayatriada Foundation with the patriarch chairing the latter and people with Turkish citizenship making up the rest of the board. However, the patriarch has rejected the idea.

The expectation of the reopening of Halki Seminary, which has been closed since 1971, has been long spelt out by the European Union in the course of entry talks and was lately expressed by U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Turkey in April.

State Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış said that reopening Halki Seminary was a domestic issue for Turkey, in an interview with the Greek daily Kathimerini, reported the Anatolia News Agency on Sunday.

"Turkey needs to address the religious needs of the Orthodox community as well as Greece needs to address the needs of the Turkish community in Western Thrace. These are domestic matters for both countries," said Bağış. Although the reciprocity principle is not a must, both countries must tackle the problems simultaneously Bağış underlined.
Reciprocity on minority rights issues in relation to the Greek community has long been seen as an international issue dependent on Greece lessening restrictions it imposes on Turkish minorities. CHP and MHP opposed amendments to the Foundations Law last year on these grounds. For more on the history of the seminary, click here.

UPDATE 7/21 -- In a six-day visit to Turkey, Thomas Hammarberg, the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, met with Justice Minister Egemen Bağış and EU negotiator Egemen Bağış. Halki was brought up in the meetings. From TDZ:
In a six-day visit to Turkey, during which Hammarberg was received by President Abdullah Gül and met with Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış, the human rights commissioner also raised the controversial issue of reopening the Halki Seminary. Asked whether he had the impression that the school would be opened soon, Hammarberg said: “Yes, clearly. There is no firm decision taken yet, but the way we discussed this matter clearly indicated that there is openness now. Hopefully the majority of the population will accept this to be the right way to go ahead. It will be decided before Istanbul assumes the title of Cultural Capital of Europe in 2010. My guess would be before the end of 2009 […].”

Parliament Passes Military Courts Reform

(updated below)

On Friday night, the Turkish Parliament passed an amendment to the Turkish Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK) that allows civil courts to try members of the armed forces who are accused of crimes --crimes involving threats to national security, constitutional violations, the organization of armed groups, and attempts to topple the government in peace time. From Hürriyet:
A legislation restricting the powers of military courts, a long-standing European Union demand, was passed in Parliament in a last-minute late night meeting Friday. The legislation passed at 1:30 a.m. Saturday with the participation of a small number of opposition deputies. The opposition parties remaining silent during the session through the early hours of Saturday have led to interpretations that the legislation went unnoticed by the opposition parties. Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan said he didn’t know about the legislation while CHP leader Deniz Baykal Sunday described the move as a kind of "midnight coup."
In Kocaeli on Sunday, Prime Minister Erdoğan defended the legislation, averring that there was nothing tricky about the vote and that it was made in efforts to meet EU standards pertinent to civil-military relations. Erdoğan also accused Baykal and the CHP of hypocrisy, pointing to Baykal's support -- expressed last week -- of a repeal of Article 15 of the Turkish Consitition, which grants immunity to plotters of the 1980 coup. That change in the law would pave the way for General Evren and others to be tried in civilian courts for their actions.

UPDATE 6/30 -- The CHP has announced that it will petition the Constitutional Court to annul Friday's amendment as unconstitutional. The CHP is arguing the amendment contradicts Article 145 of the Constitution, which declares that the military judiciary is responsible for cases within the military. The MHP is backing CHP on the issue.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Şener Trial Raises More Questions About Press Freedom

Nedim Şener, a columnist for Milliyet, faces a 28 year sentence for publishing a book documenting negligence of municipal police, the gendarmerie, and the Turkish secret service prior to the murder of rant Dink in January 2007. Şener's book, The Dink Murder and Intelligence Lies, was published in January, after which a police officer working in in the intelligence unit in Trabzon filed a complaint against Şener alleging the journalist had violated Turkish law by "targeting personnel in service of fighting terrorism, obtaining secret documents, disclosing secret documents, violating the secrecy of communication and attempting to influence fair trial." From Hürriyet:
After the investigation’s end, Prosecutor Selim Berna Altay charged Şener with "making targets of the personnel in service of fighting terrorism, and obtaining and declaring secret information that is forbidden to be declared," asking for a prison term of 20 years. Since they do not fall under his authority, Altay sent the dossier on "violation of the secrecy of communication" and "attempting to influence fair trial" to the Istanbul Second Court. In the meantime, it was also claimed the book contained the offense of "insulting governmental institutions," and that too was added to the second investigation. Prosecutor İsmail Onaran handled this investigation and filed a second case against Şener asking for his imprisonment for three to eight years.
Ogün Samast, the man charged with pulling the trigger in the Dink murder, faces a 20 year sentence by comparison. Some of the intelligence officers who have been made plaintiffs in the case against Şener are facing charges in relation to their negligence in the Dink murder in Trabzon.

The Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has condemned the trial as a violation of press freedom guaranteed in OSCE countries. In a letter to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, asked Turkish authorities to drop the charges.
Şener is prosecuted in defiance of freedoms that both OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards grant to critical publications . . . . What he did was critically assess the events leading up to Hrant Dink's murder, and the deficiencies afterwards in the handling of the case and in the prosecution of the perpetrators.
Şener faces charges of violating state secrecy laws -- which he denies, claiming information he attained can be accessed via the Internet -- and for attempting to influence the judiciary, a charge under the Turkish Penal Code that has been levelled against numerous dissidents of state action. Milliyet editor Sedat Ergin has stood solidly beside Şener throughout the proceedings.

Yigal Schleifer writes
Although Şener may not be convicted, the fact that a prosecutor decided to press ahead with the case is very troubling, the message of the prosecution appearing to be that even publishing the truth can be a punishable offense. The case also serves as another indication that, despite training programs for prosecutors and judges and efforts at reform, Turkey's judiciary main concern remains protecting the state and its institutions, rather than safeguarding the rights of individuals.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Landmark ECHR Decision on Domestic Violence

Nahide Opuz and her mother were subject to the extreme violence of Nahide's husband and stepfather, her husband's mother, between 1995, when Nahide was married, and 2002, when Nahide's husband shot and killed her mother while they were attempting to drive away. Nahide and her mother had complained to police since 1995, and continued to complain after Nahide's husband stabbed her in 2001 to be released with a fine. The two left after Nahide's mother reportedly decided the two neeed to leave to save their lives. After killing Nahide's husband killed her mother, local authorities released him despite his receiving a life sentence. His release resulted from his claim that he had murdered Nahide's mother to protect the family's honor.

After her mother's murder, Nahide appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after exhausting all legal resorts in Turkey. Nahide claimed the police and local courts had violated numerous articles of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, include Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (prohibiting torture and "inhuman or degreading treatment and punishment"), Article 13 (guaranteeing the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of the Convention), and Article 14 (prohibiting discrimination). The ECHR found all rights had been violated, including, most significantly, Article 14. In its conclusion, the ECHR recognized "gender-based" violence as discrimination, for the first time ruling that the state had a right to protect women from domestic violence under the article. Click here for the decision. From the Wall Street Journal:
The case is a landmark ruling for Europe. For the first time, it classifies such cases as gender discrimination, giving the Strasbourg court jurisdiction in cases of domestic violence.

Andrea Coombers, legal practice director at the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights in London, said describing gender-based violence as discrimination "is what the rest of the world has thought for at least a decade. It is a significant step in the right direction by the European Union."

Mesut Bestas, the lawyer for Ms. Opuz, added: "European legislation on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and right to life is clear, but when it comes to the issue of women's rights, the legal framework is murky. ... This trial begins to shed light on that murkiness."
Bianet reports that though Opuz is pleased with the decision, she still lives in fear of her husband is not receiving protection from the police.

For more on violence against women, see especially Jenny White's blog, Kamil Pasha, which does an excellent job of chronicling domestic violence cases. I would also

UPDATE 6/23 -- Today's Zaman reports that Opuz is now receiving protection from the state, but is also seeking the protection of her children. See also Rahila Gupta's recent column in The Guardian. Gupta addresses the case in regard to domestic violence cases in the UK. See also the comments of Hülya Gülbahar, president of the Association for the Support and Education of Women Candidates (KA-DER), which ran in Bianet.