Ramazan Özcan, who migrated to Germany from Turkey in 1979, is one of the fathers whose daughter was taken away by the Jugendamt. The Özcan family lives in the town of Bad Oeynhausen in Minden in North Rhine-Westphalia. Özcan works as a truck driver to support his family.
Since he was unable to continue his education due to financial problems, Özcan said he gave special importance to the education of his three daughters as one of his daughters, Hilal, studied law and his other daughter, Havva, studied medicine.
His third daughter, Rukiye, is the subject of the family's tragic story. Rukiye did not return home from school four years ago and applied to the Jugendamt, claiming that her family was forcing her to cover her head. She was 16 at the time. Since then, the family has seen their daughter only once and for just five minutes. The father said that in addition to the legal battles and undergoing the pain of failure to see their daughter, they pay 380 euros to the state every year for Rukiye. According to the father, Rukiye got pregnant when she was staying in a Jugendamt dorm and had an abortion, she was later expelled from the dorm, and no one now knows her whereabouts.
It is not only in Germany but all over Europe that the number of missing children and destroyed families increases due to youth offices that are supposed to support children who have been subjected to abuse by their families or who are left to the streets. There are reportedly 4,000 Turkish children in the hands of these offices in Europe who grow up unfamiliar with their culture and traditions. Although laws say that every child cared for by these offices should be raised in accordance with their culture or religion, this is not put into practice.
Ercan Yaşaroğlu, a social counselor, who lives in Berlin and follows the actions of the youth offices closely, told Sunday's Zaman that he knows some Turkish children, taken away from their families by youth offices, who have been given to foster families where they are being raised as enemies of Turkish and Islamic values.
He said even the name of one of these children was changed, and he works for the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).
Turks afraid to speak
On the 51st anniversary of the Turkish migrations to Germany, European Turks have taken significant steps to adapt to their new places of residence; yet, they face serious problems. One of the problems resulting from the migration is children who have been removed from the custody of their families, though this issue is not widely known. Most of the families say they are not raising their voice about their “missing” children because they fear that they might not be allowed to see their children again.
A closer look at the history of the controversial youth offices shows that these offices were established following World War II as part of the police. They were later subordinated to local administrations. The authority of the officials working in these offices, which number more than 600, is too great, and it is not possible to challenge their decisions in court. Teenagers taken away from their families are placed in youth office dorms, while younger children are given to foster families. Foster families are paid by the state in return for caring for these children.
Laws clearly define the duties and authority of the youth offices, yet problems arise during implementation of the laws. According to immigrant Turks, youth offices discriminate against Turkish families.
Youth offices take action after receiving complaints from police, municipal institutions, school administrations, teachers, family doctors or people who are suspicion of child abuse in a family.
For instance, school administrations can file complaints at youth offices about children who do not behave well in classrooms, who show little interest in their lessons or who don't care about their clothes, thinking that they are abused by their families. This is a situation that Turkish families say they frequently face.
Court approval is needed for youth offices to take a child away from a family, and they can only remove a child from the custody of a family without court approval when there is a risk to the life of the child.
Although courts grant the right to decide where the child should be cared for to the youth offices, the family of the child still has other rights concerning the child. According to the laws governing youth offices, both the foster families and youth offices have to arrange the circumstances for the child in accordance with the cultural and social circumstances of the child's biological family. According to the same laws, youth offices are required to resolve any conflicts between the mother and the father of the child before they take the child away from the family. Youth offices are also expected to establish a cooperative relationship between the foster family and the real family of the child for the child's good and make a plan with the real family about the child's growth process.
According to German laws, taking a child away from a family is the last solution, and youth offices cannot assume the role of a parent and cannot prevent the parents from seeing their child after he or she is taken away from the family.
Turkish children assimilated in dorms
Immigrant Turkish families in Europe complain that youth offices violate the law when they deal with Turkish families. They say these offices abuse the right to take a child away from a family without a court decision when there is a risk of death for the child. According to these families, a complaint from a neighbor about suspected abuse of a child in a family or the child's statements to this effect are sufficient to have the child taken from that family.
They also say that although children given to foster families should be raised in line with the socio-cultural values of the biological family as the relevant laws suggest, this is also ignored.
According to the statements of the immigrant families, there are many children in foster families who are given pork to eat or given alcoholic beverages to drink, although they are both banned in Islam. They also say many such children use drugs and even have their names changed.
It is not only the Özcan family that was only able to see their child once in four years. Families that are able to see their children in foster care once a month say they feel lucky. During meetings with the biological family, foster families can even prevent members of the real family from hugging their child.
Another father whose daughter was taken away by the German Jugendamt office is Veysel Aydoğdu, who lives in Berlin. Aydoğdu's daughter went to school and did not return home one day. Aydoğdu said he later learned from a phone call that his daughter took shelter in a youth office over claims that she had been exposed to violence at home. He said he was very surprised to hear this as he had a very good relationship with his daughter.
“The most painful thing for me is not to be able to see my daughter and ask her why she left home,” he told Sunday's Zaman.
The father said he is not allowed to see his daughter on the grounds that his daughter does not want to meet with any of her family members.
“They called me around a month ago. My daughter was in hospital. She underwent surgery without any information being given to me. They [officials at the youth office] said it was an emergency situation. They asked me for permission for a second operation. I will settle accounts with the Jugendamt in court. My daughter is 14 1/2-years old. She is a bright teenager. She used to read one full book every day. Now I have learned that she lives in a dorm with five women and four men. I am afraid of getting involved in a crime [due to my daughter's situation] and being jailed,” he said.
Aydoğdu voiced his surprise over claims by officials from the Jugendamt that he forced his daughter to cover her head and made death threats. He said his family is not conservative.
The story of Gökay Düz, who settled in Germany in 1995, concerns his son, who was taken away from him when he was only 6 months old.
Düz, who works as a waiter at a Turkish restaurant, said his son, Erencan, was taken away from him when he took him to a hospital at the age of 6 months over claims that he was not taking good care of the infant.
Düz, who has since divorced his wife, has been trying since 2005 to see his son. Although he fulfilled all the demands of the Jugendamt officials, they refuse to give his son back to him. Erencan is being taken care of by a foster family now. Düz regrets that his parents, who came to Germany to see him and their grandson, could only see Erencan once. Düz said he was completely shocked when the foster family attempted to change Erencan's surname. Düz is now trying to make sure his son keeps his surname. He said the foster family is doing its best to prevent the return of Erencan to his family because it sees him as a source of income because the German state pays foster families.
Turkish children are a source of income
As in Düz's case, many foster families see Turkish children who have been taken away from their families and given to them as a source of income. Youth offices place these children either with foster families or in dorms. Eight percent of the youth offices in Germany belong to churches. Churches also see these children as a source of income as they are paid 70-100 euros every day by the state to take care of these children.
Some families foster more than one child to make more money. The families are paid around 600-800 euros monthly per child.
According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, the Jugendamt took 33,700 children away from their families in 2009 and placed them in dorms; 26,745 of these children are of German origin, while 6,965 of them are from immigrant families. In 2011, the Jugendamt took 32,300 children away from their families, and 2,800 of these children are those carrying passports. Children who are German citizens but are of Turkish origin are not included in this figure. Since the Federal Statistical Office of Germany does not give any information about the ethnicity of the children, the exact number of Turkish children in the hands of the youth offices is not known, but they are estimated to be between 4,000 and 7,000.
Immigrant Turks in Germany who file complaints at the Turkish Embassy or consulates about their missing children complain about the insensitivity of these institutions to their problem.
The first generation of Turkish immigrants in Germany -- most of whom are unable to speak German -- cannot seek their rights because they don't know German laws very well. So social counselors and lawyers are of crucial importance for them.
Yaşaroğlu is one of the social counselors based in Kreuzberg, a predominantly Turkish neighborhood in Berlin. He tries to support Turkish families whose children have been taken away from them or who fear such a thing and inform them about their rights.
Yaşaroğlu complained that there are some Turkish social counselors who work against Turks just to win the appreciation of Germans and separate children from their families.
He said Düz was also abused by such a social counselor, and his chances of getting his son back are slim.
According to Yaşaroğlu, the real job of the youth offices is to make the lives of abused children more livable, but he said this is not so in practice, accusing these offices of abusing the weaknesses of immigrant families.
The issue of Turkish children who have been separated from their families and given to foster families in Germany has recently been brought to the agenda in Turkey by Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ.
“There are 4,000 Turkish children in Germany who have been taken away from their families and given to either a Christian family or a church dormitory. We are faced with a great tragedy, a serious assimilation effort,” Bozdağ said.
The deputy minister also said several Turkish institutions are trying to convince Turkish families to become foster families and establish dorms in different parts of Europe where Turkish children can be placed.