ISTANBUL - According to a social worker, domestic violence is perhaps the greatest problem in Turkey that causes children to end up on the streets.
Child abuse is a social issue with deep roots, however, hope does exist and one ray is a foundation established in 1997 to help children in need.
There is no unanimity when it comes to the numbers of children in Turkey facing exploitation, difficult living conditions or homelessness. Official data estimates 1,641 children were living on the streets of Turkish cities in 2004, the most recent data on the issue.
Geleceğimizin Çocukları Vakfı (The Children of Our Future Foundation), or GÇV, at the time it was established in 1997 was the first nongovernmental organization in Turkey to provide shelter for children in need. Before the foundation was formed, only governmental institutions were supposed to take care of children who worked or lived on the streets. Now the state and the foundation work hand in hand. While social workers conduct field research about the situation of children, they also seek the help of the foundation for the shelter and rehabilitation of children.
GÇV was established through the initiative of Sadettin Tantan, former mayor of Istanbul's Fatih district. He highlighted the problem of children living and working on the streets of Istanbul to Müge Çelebican, the founding president of GÇV, who said she had no idea about the seriousness of the issue before meeting Tantan. "When your economic situation is good, you only notice the existence of the problem, but you can never know how deep it runs," she told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.
In addition to the home in Edirnekapı, the foundation has run two more, a home for girls in Bahçelievler, since 2001, and a home for boys on property donated by the Küçükçekmece Municipality in Halkalı, since 2002. The foundation hopes to open another house in Fatih at the end of 2009.
There are already many success stories in the short history of the foundation. Fifteen of the children who have left the foundation houses are now university graduates. "A doctor, a lawyer, an engineer," Çelebican said. "So far all of the high school graduates have entered universities.
The GÇV president said psychological counseling was the most important part of the service provided by the foundation. The priority is to make children forget the trauma of the past and make the rest of their childhood the happiest period of their lives. For this reason, a group of specialists have prepared a special therapy program, which due to positive results, is also being implemented in government orphanages. The main principle behind the program is continuity. The mental and physical development of children in these houses is recorded periodically so that continuity can be obtained even if the people who care for the children change.
Fırat Urcan, a psychologist at the foundation, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review that the implemented therapy program was one of the great successes of the foundation."Even those kids lacking great intellectual abilities have very well-developed social skills," Urcan said. "They can be a part of society and this is what we have achieved."
Domestic violence, according to Müge Çelebican, is the greatest problem in Turkey and the reason children end up on the street. Child abuse is a social issue that is rooted in Turkish culture. Children can be treated more like objects possessed by their parents than human beings, said Çelebican.
Psychological problems in families are also a great taboo, "There is no culture of going to a psychologist. Instead, adults relieve their tension on their children. Turkish society is a very nervous one. Instead of educating kids, uneducated people beat them," said Çelebican.
Recep, a newcomer to the foundation, used to be kept locked up by his family without food in terrible conditions. Introducing Recep, a boy carrying a book that appeared to be heavier than himself, Çelebican said Recep liked to read and wanted to learn.
Cem, another victim of domestic violence, has lived at the foundation for six years. "At the beginning he was not even able to speak. He used to be beaten and that affected his intellectual capacity," Çelebican said.
Mesut, who spent part of his childhood in a governmental institution for teenagers, told the Daily News he would be a different person now if GÇV took care of him from the beginning.
In the past he wanted to be a maths teacher. He earned enough points to enter a standard high school, which would allow him to study at university. However, the institution taking care of him made the decision for him. Mesut was sent to a vocational high school just like all other boys. "When you are talented, [the foundation] sends you to a private school," he explained the difference between the two types of organization, "In government shelters there is no such option." Despite facing difficulties, he successfully graduated and entered a vocational school at one of the universities in Ankara. When he turned 25, the state support he was receiving ended and the foundation decided to support him. He currently receives a scholarship from the foundation, which enables him to complete his post-graduate engineering studies at Yıldız Technical University.
In 2004, the Social Services and Children Protection Institution, or SHÇEK, in its 42 centers for children and young people, registered over 40,000 children who were struggling with various social problems. According to UNICEF data, at least 42,000 children are estimated to be living or working on the streets in Turkey, although unofficial estimates are as high as 80,000.
More information about the GÇV foundation is available at: www.gcv.org.tr.