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July 01, 2012, Sunday

Child labor issues and social inequalities

Since 2002, every year on June 12 the International Labour Organization (ILO) lends recognition to the cause of stopping child labor. World Day Against Child Labour is a way to highlight the plight of these children.

My foreign guests often ask me about child labor in Turkey. Statistics are not always easily available on the subject of child labor in countries where this happens. Based on the information available, you could say that one of the most concerning indicators in Turkey of economic inequality and discrimination is just this: the apparently high rate of child labor. I would like to just share with you some highlights taken from the following sources: a 2009 report called “Give girls a chance: Tackling child labour, a key to the future” by the International Labour Organization and an article I read on the Internet called “Child labour in Turkey exposes growing social inequality” (Aug. 18, 2010) at

The following points about Turkey are based on reports by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) and ILO.

*At least 6 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 are working.

*More than 15 percent of children in this age group do not attend school. Turkey is rated the third-worst out of 16 countries, following Mali and Senegal and in terms of hours worked weekly by children.

*Child laborers work on average 51 hours per week, and more than half of children aged 6 to 17 work to support their families' household income.

*Eighteen out of every 100 people in the labor force are children. These children are deprived of an education from the get-go and the opportunities that other children their age are provided.

*Fifty-six percent of children in the labor force come from families who have migrated from rural to urban areas.

We all know that child labor has been a problem everywhere and continues to be so in some countries. In order to help put bread on the table or buy a pair of shoes, children work in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. It is disturbing to know that there are children who are robbed of their childhood. Until laws were in place and the US Department of Labor began to investigate, this problem existed in my home country. Some of my British friends have told me about the workhouses there were in England during the Victorian days.

One of the perks of running a bookstore is that you get to read all kinds of books. A book I read a couple of months ago on this subject comes to mind. It is part of Scholastic's My Story series, entitled “Victorian Workhouse: The Diary of Edith Lorrimer, England, 1871” by Pam Oldfield. The story is set in 1871 in England. The book is written as a Victorian girl's diary, intended to help children learn about what life would have been like for a child in the mill industry at that time. It is not the most pleasant subject. However, it is a nice read for both boys and girls. I believe you won't want to put it down! For children, it will give them a slice of history in a way that makes it easily understandable for them.

Sadly, child labor in Turkey is an embarrassing fact.

There are some who are aware of this problem in Turkey and are taking steps to determine what the community can do. Recently, Bilkent University held a seminar on child labor. The presenter, Şule Mann of ILO, discussed the current situation and raised awareness among the Bilkent community of the issues of child labor.

Şule Mann pointed out that child labor in Turkey and many other countries in transition needs to be addressed from many different aspects, including in terms of demography, education, economics and social development. Mann indicates that the population of Turkey in 1995 was estimated to be 61.6 million. Around 35 percent of this population was within the 0-14 age group. The number of children in the 6-14 age group was approximately 11.9 million (Household Labor Force Survey, State Institute of Statistics, October 1994.) An estimated 1.08 million (8 percent) of these children were employed in business, and another 2.8 million (23 percent) worked in domestic labor (i.e., family-operated farms or businesses). Within the same age group, around 13 percent did not attend school. Another striking figure was that 18 out of every 100 people in the labor force was a child. These statistics show us that, unfortunately, not a lot has changed in this regard in Turkey since the mid-1990s.

The Turkish government is not doing enough to tackle this problem. No concrete steps are being taken to eliminate child labor, as stressed by EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle in February of this year.

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