The Humanist Bureau, which was established by lawyer Seda Akço Bilen and former UNICEF Turkey child protection section head Bürge Akbulut in 2010, states on its website that it “provides consultancy services on child rights and human rights for public, private, national and international institutions, local governments, universities, civil society organizations, political parties and individuals within the framework of European Union and international legislation.” They work in the fields of international knowledge and experience sharing; research and analysis; development and implementation of training programs; meeting planning and organization; policy development; project development and implementation; and monitoring and evaluation.
Akbulut spoke with Sunday’s Zaman and said the Humanist Bureau’s mission is to “strengthen the policies and practices that would guarantee the full realization of rights, contributing to the establishment of a world of freedom, justice and peace for all living species.”
Akbulut added that the focus of the bureau is to promote children’s rights in Turkey, where the issue has never satisfactorily come into the spotlight. Saying that the bureau deals with various human rights issues, but their main issue is children’s rights, Akbulut said the bureau monitors daily all media reports on children’s issues, and then they compile these stories. Akbulut went on to say, “The bureau prepares assessment reports on these compiled stories in terms of children’s rights and child protection, with the intention of raising public awareness on the issue of children’s rights and bringing children’s rights more to public attention in Turkey.”
Stating that children are one of the main subjects of Turkish media reports almost every day and the themes of these stories mostly revolve around violence and sexual abuse, Akbulut said: “There is not much consideration by the Turkish public of these reports, as people generally forget the incidents involving children the following day or week, when a new incident is covered in the media. What the Humanist Bureau is trying to do is keep such issues on the agenda and assess these reports in terms of children’s rights to change society’s perspective on the value of children.”
Akbulut added that the bureau selects one media report on children each day to feature online. The media story and the bureau’s assessment are published at blog.humanistburo.org, along with www.facebook.com/humanistburo and www.bianet.org.
When asked why they focus on children, Akbulut said it is because they believe that issues relating to children are less visible than those of other groups in Turkey, and they believe that Turkey needs to change its perspective on children’s issues.
Regarding the feedback they have received for their work, Akbulut said: “There are about 100 media reports on children every month, but because these stories appear at different times and in various media outlets, they remain ineffective in bringing public attention to children’s issues in Turkey. Our bureau’s blog puts all the reports on children together to show people the extent of children’s rights violations in Turkey. However, because our project is very new, it has not fully reached its goals. The feedback we have gotten so far is very positive. When we ask people about the effectiveness of the project, they say this project has started to create awareness in the area of children’s rights in society, and people working on human rights support us in our efforts to promote children’s rights in Turkey.”
In response to a question about how they see the media’s approach towards children’s issues in Turkey, Akbulut said that Turkish media outlets don’t care much about respecting the privacy of children and do not avoid tarnishing their names while reporting these incidents.
In order to illustrate the situation, Akbulut said, “For instance, when Turkish media outlets report a sexual abuse story, they don’t emphasize the word ‘abusing.’ Instead, they use the word “raping,” which shows that Turkish media outlets are not sufficiently aware of the vulnerable position of a child in relation to an adult, and Turkish media outlets tend to use labels for children, such as ‘paint-thinner-addicted children’ or ‘stone-throwing children’ in their reports.”
Stating that the Turkish media doesn’t fulfill its responsibilities and duties to children, Akbulut said the media can be used as a very effective means of raising public awareness on rights of children and preventing children’s rights violations in Turkey, so media outlets should fulfill their duties toward children and behave cautiously and respectfully while covering incidents in which children are the main subjects.
Akbulut said they want to expand their work on children’s rights in Turkey. She concluded that they want to contribute to local administrations’ efforts on children’s rights, and they want to reach every segment of the public to promote children’s rights in Turkey.