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’Laws in dispute with children’

The Human Rights Commission of the Diyarbakır Governor’s Office prepared a report after visiting the Diyarbakır Type E prison in April to examine children’s situation in prison. Findings in the report are troublesome. Children are kept in an unhealthy environment, deprived of health services and are subjected to violence.

Violence against children is applied not only in this particular prison but everywhere. The "Children and Official Violence" panel held at Bilgi University on May 12 discussed the matter. The panel revealed in the conclusion that the number of children who died of violence by police and soldiers rose to 328. Images of the children beaten by gun strokes on April 23 and a 14-year-old kid who drowned while trying to escape from the police are still fresh. It was a different way of celebrating Children’s Day on April 23.

The Human Rights Society released a report titled "Children in Conflict with the Law -2008." While reading, one considers that a title like "Laws in Conflict with Children" sounds better.

According to the figures, in the period 2006-2007 total number of children members of armed organizations or number of children in trial for the Counter Terrorism Law, or TMK, is 1,572. Problems are stemming from the laws. (Previously the age limit cited in the law was 15.) Therefore, children below 18 should be put on trial in juvenile court. But the law still suggests trying children between 15 and 18 in the High Criminal Court, just like adults. Besides, Article 13 of the TMK states that no postponement or conversion to some other punitive sanctions is allowed for children at the age 15-18. In other words, the amendment in the Penal Code recognizing juniors below 18 as children is not contained in the TMK. Such disaccord needs to be removed immediately by amending the TMK.

Children throwing stones are tried according to Article 314 of the Penal Code. That is to say they are put before the judge for being members to armed gangs. And the penalty for the crime is 5-10 years in prison. Even if one third of the total time is reduced due to the age limitation, a child is kept in prison for 5-6 years just because of throwing stones. Is this not hurting the feeling of justice? What if a stone-throwing child is released after serving five years becomes an adult using weapon?

There are quite important differences between Turkish legal system and international law when it comes to children. The mentality in Turkish laws and implementations is to punish a child who commits crime. But international law seeks to protect the child and support his development by various measures. Therefore, for children a different legal system and different conditions for limiting freedom are applied. Police, prosecutor and prison staffs who are involved in juvenile delinquency are experts who have special training.

For instance, Article 37 of the United Nations Children’s Rights Convention states that every child who is subject to penal sanctions should be treated considering all his needs. Article 40 asks states to form special posts, institutions and laws for children. The U.N. Resolutions (Beijing Resolutions) determine minimums for children’s trials and requests that trials be held without arrests. The document foresees trial under arrest should be the last option. But in Turkey, children are kept under arrest for months.

Rıza Türmen is a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights and a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece appeared on Friday. It was translated into English by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review's staff