Children should not be employed as porters or in other hazardous trades. And for those whom life has forced into the streets, shelters should be available in every city. That this aspiration remains just a hope for many is disconcerting. That this "wish list" for children was sent to the Turkish Parliament as a petition signed by some 4,000 children back in 1929 is a reminder of how we continue to fail many of our children.
Yesterday was National Sovereignty and Children’s Day, a national holiday since 1935. We at the Daily News acknowledged the day with special coverage, as did other newspapers. Today we report on the brave words of political leaders and the events held around the country to mark the occasion. In some cases, the redoubled commitment to children is inspiring; in other cases, such as the shivering children put on parade in matching T-shirts despite the cold, we are left shaking our heads.
Turkey has made progress in recent years. In 1994 more than 2 million children were employed in the euphemistic "informal sector." Today, that number is less than 1 million. Literally dozens of NGOs are working tirelessly in Turkey to improve the lives of children. Among them are the Mother-Child Education Foundation, the Turkish Education Foundation and the Volunteers to Society Foundation. Yesterday we reported on Yusuf Kulca, a former street child himself who has set up numerous organizations to aid and rehabilitate children who are victims of poverty, violence and social exclusion. There are many heroes in Turkey, and we salute them all.
But the issue is one of scale. And a proportional response is not apparent. Particularly at a time of a perilous economy, the situation grows only graver. As the latest unemployment figures point out, young people generally are often among the first victims of an economic downturn. Roughly a third of young people seeking employment in Turkey cannot find it; the children selling tissues on the street are a vivid barometer of families forced to make pre-teens the family breadwinners. Ask any teacher running an overcrowded primary school in any large Turkish city what their biggest educational challenge is and the response is invariably the same. Many children come to class hungry, they will say, and children with growling stomachs cannot learn.
Innumerable social pathologies follow, from drug use to recruitment by terrorists. These are problems that need to be confronted in a broad and comprehensive way. To say that children are a nation’s future is certainly a clich. But it is also true. And Turkey today is wasting far too much of its future.