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Syrian Children Facing the Worst of Two Fates, Death by War or Extreme Poverty | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Syrian refugee child eats inside his family’s tent at an informal settlement in Deir al-Ahmar, Bekaa valley September 16, 2014. REUTERS/Alia Haju

Ankara- Syria’s children, forced out of their homes since 2011 in one of the world’s largest human displacements since World War 2 today face the worst of two evils—either to face gruesome death with state-of-the-art weapons, chemical arms or the stranded life of a refugee.

Children are being subjected to horrific experiences every day in Syria, grave human rights violations, such as killing, maiming, recruitment by armed groups and attacks on schools and hospitals are being observed.

Refugee children face the difficult choice of child labor to help ends meet at country’s granting them asylum, which mostly present a tougher economic challenge for newcomers let alone asylum seekers.

Thousands of refugees have turned to begging on the streets, and minors resorting to unorganized and illegal labor.

Findings indicate that the conflict and displacement has forced more children into working in increasingly dangerous and exploitative conditions that impact them physically, mentally or socially and limit their right to education. Left without sufficient aid services in areas controlled by government or terrorist groups, as well as in besieged areas, a life in dignity is far beyond reach and many of these children are severely traumatized and in need of immediate help.

Turkey, one of the countries to receive the largest number of Syrian refugees amounting to some 3 million now witnesses the deteriorating of an already present issue of child labor.

Statistics show that illegal child’s labor of ages 6-17 has reached 893,000 Turkish children in 2012 with the numbers increasing until this very day. With the Syrian refugee crisis the number of children forced into labor is expected to be somewhere around a million and a half.

In Turkey there are over 2.7 million officially registered Syrian refugees, in addition, Syria’s neighboring countries are also hosting a high number of refugees from other countries, primarily from Palestine and Iraq.

Turkey has experienced strong economic growth over the last decade but has been affected by economic slowdown since 2014. The country ranks 72 out of 188 states and territories in the HDI ranking, with a HDI value of 0.761 in 2014. This puts Turkey in the high development category. Youth unemployment is at 18.7 %, slightly higher than the average 16.7 % for countries in the high development category.

The gross enrollment rate for primary education has increased from 99.3 % in 2011 to 100 % in 2014. Since July 2015, the conflict in the southeastern part of Turkey has been aggravated. The most severely affected areas are situated in the south east of the country.

The Turkish government has built 25 camps near the Turkish-Syrian border, where, as of March 2016, 10 % of the refugee population has been settled into camps which have now reached full capacity.

As in other neighboring countries, child labor is being used as a negative coping mechanism in reaction to the dire economic situation of the refugee community in Turkey. Likewise, child labor is an indication of the exhaustion of other means. More research is needed since no official figures are available. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that child labor among refugee children in Turkey is on the increase.

Child labor was already a major issue in Turkey before the beginning of the Syrian crisis. With the arrival of refugee children who now pick up work in both urban and rural areas, the situation has become even more aggravated. There are already almost 1 million children engaged in economic activities in Turkey197 and the number continues to grow with the arrival of more and more Syrian children fleeing the war.

The UN Human Development Report 2015 states that child labor in Turkey is at a level of 5.9 % amongst children aged 5–14.

According to an assessment of 500 households carried out by Support to Life/Hayata Destek (STL), a Turkish humanitarian aid agency and local partner of Terre des Hommes, the average age of working children amongst those families surveyed in Urfa and Hatay is 14 to 15. Almost 40 % of the children are predominantly working in harsh and dangerous jobs; they are also employed in small shops, bakeries, factories and engaged in domestic labor.

Families interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that their children were working in garment factories, dried fruit factories, shoemak­ing workshops and auto mechanic shops; some picked cher­ries or worked as agricultural laborers, while others sold tissues, water, or fresh dates on the street.