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Many businesses employ child workers with the identity cards of the children's relatives in order to circumvent the law, which strictly prohibits employing anyone under the age of 15.
The issue of child labor came to public attention following the death of a 13-year-old primary school student, Ahmet Yıldız, in a plastics factory in Adana in March. It is common to see children working at auto shops, textile factories and construction sites.
The Family and Social Policy Ministry recently revealed that the number of child workers in Turkey has exceeded 1 million. However, authorities have not carried out an extensive study of child labor since 2006.
Fourteen-year-old Yunus K. is one of these child workers. He uses his uncle's ID card to work at a construction company in the İstanbul suburb of Tuzla. The boy said he has to take care of his family because his father suffers from a slipped disk. “We have no other income. My father is injured. I often come here to work while my siblings go to school,” he told Today's Zaman. He said there are many others working in the same way with similar reasons.
Many families cite financial troubles as the reason why they allow their children work at an early age. Children of separated families seem to often enter working life earlier in order to support their families. Ten-year-old Eyup and 13-year-old Veysel, who work as street vendors, are two of them. Their parents got divorced four years ago. Their mother, Fatma B., is selling water on a roadside to make a living for her family. Speaking to Today's Zaman, she said she tried hard to take care of her family and send her kids to school. Her ex-husband does not support his children financially, so the mother receives assistance from the Fatih Municipality.
“Why would a person with no problems making a living make their children work? Our situation is crystal clear: We cannot make a living. Therefore every day passes with fear and panic. There are all kinds of people on the streets. I am afraid that they might hurt my children. I am always behind them. I sell water and watch them too,” she said.
Fatma B. added that the kids do not want to work, either, but that they are aware of their situation. “They know that they have to work because we need it. Even a policeman warned me. He said, ‘Don't make your children work on the streets. You can provide them to a grocery store as a helper'.”
Ozlem Baglar of the Life Health and Social Solidarity Foundation warned that children working on the streets can easily be pushed into criminal acts. In remarks to Today's Zaman, Baglar said these children are also in danger of being subjected to physical or sexual harassment and that their working conditions put their mental health in jeopardy as well. “Children working on the street are at risk of addiction to drugs like paint thinner or homelessness. The less they are used to street culture, the easier it is for us to help them,” she said.
She also warned people not to buy anything from young street vendors. She said people must inform authorities about such minors or call the 183 hotline, which was launched to rescue street children. She urged state and civil society organizations to take action to save these young people.