Turkey, a country of beggars:
Anatolian 'beggar villages' send professional street kids to Istanbul
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Sunday, January 17, 2010 ISTANBUL
The brutalized 5-year-old tissue seller Bedrettin has put street children back on Turkey's agenda. Children who either live on the street or are put to work there by their families are not being helped properly or in a lasting way, says an expert. Begging or selling small items such as tissues or bottled water on the street are the main sources of income for some villages in Anatolia
The Jan. 11 discovery of 5-year-old Bedrettin, beaten to within an inch of his life for entering the territory of older kids while selling tissues, has brought street children back to the forefront in Turkey.
Bedrettin has been saved from the streets for the moment, since he will be taken from his family and helped by the Social Services and Child Protection Agency, or SHÇEK, but experts say there are many more where he came from.
Children who are begging or selling cheap products such as tissues or bottled water in the streets are generally from certain villages; two in Adana, and one each in Konya and İzmit, a sociologist from SHÇEK, who wished to remain anonymous, explained to Serkan Ocak from daily Radikal. The same families come [to Istanbul] constantly. They divide the year between themselves; a group comes for six months and the other one comes afterward, the sociologist said. The ones who remain handle the affairs in the villages. The group that comes to Istanbul definitely brings the children of the remaining group with them and organizes the begging.
According to the sociologist, families divide the city into territories. The place they stay in Istanbul is usually Suriçi at Topkapı, but they might also stay in tents in the territory where they work. Their numbers increase in summer. For example, in July, 250 children are being collected from the street in one day. They should just fix Adana, [then] everywhere would be fixed. They would not come to Istanbul again.
The legal procedure
The sociologist said there are three teams in Istanbul, two for the European and one for the Asian side, patrolling 24 hours for a day, looking for street children and taking them to the Juvenile Police Department. Their families are called and they come to take their children. The family receives three warnings; then if it happens again, they get fined for all three times under the misdemeanor law, the sociologist said, explaining the legal procedure. Afterward, a criminal complaint is filed and the court decides either to assign a stipend to the family or take the child into protection.
This stipend, however, is only 700 Turkish Liras, while a child might earn 5,000 liras on the streets. Ninety-nine percent of the families know about their children working. That means they make them work, the SHÇEK sociologist added.
Most of the children working or begging on the streets quit school in their first or second year. According to the sociologist, a child selling tissues in Istanbuls Sultanahmet district might make 100 liras in one day; during the month of Ramadan, the daily income of a professional street child might increase to 250 liras. I know people who pay 100 liras for a tissue, the sociologist said, criticizing such practices. The ones who give money to the children imprison them to the streets.
Difficulty solving the problem
The most important problem is that the children cannot be defined, said the SHÇEK sociologist, describing three types of children on the streets. One is the glue-sniffers, who have no ties left to their families, live in packs and take care of their needs on their own. A second group is made up of candidate street children they have minimal interaction with their families, but mostly live on the streets. The third group comprises the children who work on the streets by selling goods or begging.
The sociologist said the service system for street children has been implemented for five years, but that there are problems with it because the program is not officially defined as one of the fundamental duties of the government. It is carried out by hired help whose contract might or might not be renewed every six months, they have no insurance and often have problems paying their own bills. They generally collect kids from the streets without a police escort and receive no help from SHÇEK when they get hurt, the sociologist said.
The beggar villages of Adana
Şükran Pakkan from daily Milliyet visited the hometown of little Bedrettin, Kozan Village in Adana, which is also known as the village of beggars. The residents do not call what they do begging, saying instead that they are finding a philanthropist for themselves. The first family ever to go to Istanbul to beg left 15 years ago. Since then, many have followed this path, which has proved to be quite profitable.
The news about Bedrettins family losing custody of him has caused panic in the village. Residents do not want to speak to strangers and can hardly be convinced to do so. Our relatives go to Istanbul to work, said Bedrettins grandmother Hatice, the eldest member of the family. When asked what type of work begging is, a young man answered instead: Look, I saw you on the road; I asked for a cigarette, you gave it to me. I asked for a light, you gave it. Now, did I take your cigarette by force?
This was given as an example of finding a philanthropist.
On the streets
There are almost 4,000 street children in Istanbul, a figure that increases during the summer months, according to last years figures announced by the Istanbul Provincial Directorate of Social Services.
In 2009, children who were discovered to be working on the streets were involved in 10,741 legal proceedings. Just 400 of these children were taken into the dormitories of the Directorate of Social Services. The others were returned to their families.
There are three centers founded for the rehabilitation of street children in Istanbul, though efforts to increase the number to 10 are ongoing. Children who live on the streets and are forced to commit crimes are first rehabilitated at the Children and Youth Center in Ağaçlı, which currently houses 70 children. The centers in Ayvansaray and Küçükbakkalköy are used as first-step stations where childrens immediate shelter, bath and food needs are met. Children who are found to be working on the streets are taken from their families and brought to the 75th Year Children and Youth Center in Beyoğlu.
According to the Law of Offenses, the penalty for making children work on the streets is 143 Turkish Liras. People who buy goods or services from the children forced to work on the streets are also subject to the same penalty.
Quoting a Turkish forumer:
"It's a well known fact that most of the boys or girls living in south-eastern Turkey are losing their virginities to horses or dogs of their villages, so I don't think this will suprise any Turk in this forum; we are used to these kinda news..."