Early on Sunday morning, municipal workers cleaning near the Halıcıoğlu Metrobus stop saw what they thought was a dummy in a pile of trash. Drawing closer, they were horrified to discover that it was not garbage but a 5-year-old boy, motionless, with cuts and bruises all over his body. The child was taken to the Okmeydanı Teaching and Research Hospital, where initial examinations revealed that the child, identified as bedrettin K., suffered deep cuts to one of his hands and an ear in addition to a black eye and various bruises and cuts elsewhere on his body. Further examination revealed that the boy also had serious skull fractures consistent with an impact after falling from a height. Little Bedrettin was able to speak to doctors, however, and his heartrending tale of how he wound up bloodied, bruised and alone highlights the dangers facing many young children in the streets of İstanbul.
The young boy, who ended up in the hospital, said he was beaten regularly by family members including his parents. The beating that would land Bedrettin in a hospital’s intensive care unit, however, did not come from relatives but from other children working the streets for begging in the wrong spot. Bedrettin was beaten by three youths -- 11-year-old M.S. and his relatives S.S. and H.S. -- tortured with a knife and strangled by a clothesline before being tied up and thrown from a bridge. The reason? According to initial reports, the boys tortured Bedrettin for selling tissues in the same vicinity as M.S.
Bedrettin and his siblings have been put into state custody, but his story has already decreased the number of little children working on the street. About 300 children are being rehabilitated at the Sultanbeyli Children and Youth Center for kids having to work on the streets. Children here say their teachers and Sultanbeyli Mayor Hüseyin keskin have been like parents to them.
The center, a joint project of the Greater İstanbul Municipality and the Sultanbeyli Municipality, is inhabited by children aged 7 to 17 who had to work on the streets. Sultanbeyli Mayor Keskin says, “What happened to Bedrettin has made everyone understand the importance of this center.” Keskin stated that the district’s rapid population increase, poverty and unemployment were the causes of many younger children having to work the streets. He said the center not only worked to rehabilitate children but also acted as a counseling mechanism for families. Keskin said his municipality was ready to lend the necessary emotional and financial support to families so that they wouldn’t make their children work.
Keskin said: “I believe that Bedrettin’s incident will cause more such centers to open. I hope that we’ll never see such an incident again with the increase in the number of these facilities.”
Children won’t go back to the streets
Each child in the center has a different story. The common point to all is that they had to work on the street. The children at the center say they were strongly affected by what happened to Bedrettin. Many here say they have been beaten up and robbed by people they didn’t know when they worked on the streets. Mustafa Sever, 13, who is also attending courses at the center, says he used to sell water in summer and tissues in winter. Saying that he made between TL 20 to TL 50 a day, he stated that he would give all the money to his mother, who would use it for the children’s school expenses. Remembering that he had to work after school every day, Mustafa says one day somebody invited him to the center offering help to his family. Mustafa said he would go only if he would have the opportunity to study at the center. He wants to grow up to become a doctor. Mustafa, who says he never wants to return to the streets again, says, “What happened to him could have happened to me.”
Yunus Bilikli, also 13, says, “I will never, ever work on the street again.” Yunus says he and his four siblings had to work on the street at some point in the past and remembers selling water and tissues around the area where Bedrettin was found nearly in a coma.