REDHILL, United Kingdom — Since 2018, Turkey’s economy has been in crisis, with 90% of Turkey’s population living below the poverty line. Due to this, many young people must work to help support their families. Over half a million children in Turkey work. According to the Household Labor Force Survey, 720,000 children “engage in economic activities.”
Child Labor in Turkey
Most child laborers in Turkey are teens. Among those, 79.7% are between 15 and 17, 15.9% are aged 12 to 14 and 4.4% are between 5 and 11, according to the same survey. The most common reasons given for this labor in the survey were “to contribute household income” and “to help in a household economic activity” (for example, helping their family harvest their land or make merchandise). In fact, 36.2% of these children engage in unpaid labor for their families. Among child laborers, 70.6% are male and 29.4% are female. Of those children’s jobs, 45.4% are in the service sector and 30.8% are in agriculture and the remaining 23.7% are described as “industry.”
Hussein Bahur, aged 24, is a Turkish citizen of Kurdish origin. He spoke to The Borgen Project and shared his experience of child labor in Turkey. “I started my first paid job when I was 12. It was in a small clothes factory for an independent brand. I was the one that ironed the clothes, I was a helper. I worked there for four or five months, doing 10 or 12 hours a day. Schools in my area were not working at that time due to the conflict surrounding Kurdish rights in 2011.”
Hussein continues “Where I worked, there were not many children, just two or three my age. But in the other factories like that in the city, their workers are mostly under 18, because they don’t have to pay them a lot. I made 100 Turkish Lira (TL) per week and 400 TL per month, but this was in 2011 when the value of the Turkish lira was very different. I was making half the minimum wage at the time – maybe between 70p and £1 per hour even though I did not really like that job, I did not really enjoy it and I just wanted to quit on the first day. I wanted to leave, every day was harder and harder. A few times, I cried after work. I gave 70% of my money to my parents because I wanted to help them.”
“In terms of unpaid work, I started working on my family’s land when I was around 8 or 9. We would plant crops in our fields and then harvest them, and we would look after all the animals. Most of my friends were working on their family’s land too. Especially in the school summer holidays – it wasn’t really a holiday for us because we had to watch the animals.”
Earning For a Family
Hussein is the oldest of six children and his parents work as farmers. However, due to human rights issues surrounding the Kurds in Turkey, there are regulations around the sales of goods produced by Kurdish farmers. This means there are limited ways for his family to earn money. “I am a little bit worried about my siblings. I absolutely want them to have a better life than I had, with more opportunities and I just want them to be educated and to see everywhere, like different things, different cultures, different works. I have three more siblings that are still in school. One of them is just 6 years old, she will start school next year. I want her to have a better start than I did. For my brothers, I think they need my help. If I do not help them, they will have a hard time.”
Things Are Going Well
Despite a difficult start, things are going very well for Hussein at the moment. “Right now, I do construction work, setting tiles and ceramics in bathrooms, toilets and kitchens. It is one of the better-paying jobs in this area. We make three times the minimum wage in Turkey. I started learning construction at 18, with my uncle. I did not really enjoy it at that time, but then I worked in other jobs, and I compared them. For example, you work much longer hours at restaurants or hotels and you make less money.”
“I think learning skills is important to get better paying jobs. For example, language skills, like English, or construction skills. You do not need a language for construction, but you need a language if you want to work abroad. Other countries need a lot of construction workers. My uncle works abroad, and he has a high salary lot because he knows the language and has practical skills in construction. In the future, I am hoping to get my international construction card and move to the U.K. to be with my fiancé.”
Reducing Child Labor in Turkey
There are a number of current initiatives aimed at reducing child labor in Turkey. For example, between November 2020 and March 2024, the Public Private Partnership framework is running a program that focuses on eliminating the worst forms of child labor in the hazelnut harvesting industry in Turkey.
In addition, the International Labor Organization (ILO) started a program in 2021 that will run until 2025 aimed at reducing child labor in Turkey. In October 2020, the Republic of Turkey and the European Union partnered up to create a program aimed at removing child laborers from the seasonal agriculture industry, which will end in December 2023.
Reducing child labor is crucial in order to give children more time to focus on their school work and skill-building, which may be essential in securing a brighter future for themselves. With the support of the EU and other international organizations, it is possible to limit the amount of child labor in Turkey and ensure that all children have the financial security to enjoy their childhoods.
– Tasha B. Johnson