Turkey is set to kick off a campaign spearheaded by first lady Emine Erdoğan to fight child labor and turn the tide on the disturbing trend by increasing school attendance, mandatory education and tighter inspections.
The country has declared 2018 "The Year Against Child Labor" with authorities acknowledging that the issue has become a serious problem at the global and national level and joint action is needed to address the lack of policies in this regard.
Although no recent data is available on the number of children in the workforce, official figures from 2012 show that out of 15.25 million employees, some 292,000 were between the ages of 6 and 14, and another 601,000 were between the ages of 15 and 17. It is difficult to keep track of the exact numbers as most underage workers work in unregistered businesses and often in secret. A large number of them work in agriculture, mostly "helping" their families in seasonal agricultural jobs. Others - generally children above the age of 10 - find employment in industrial jobs like unregistered textile workshops and as apprentice to mechanics.
Eight ministries, from the Labor, Social Services and Family Ministry to the Interior Ministry, will coordinate the project led by Erdoğan, who is looking to keep children off the streets where they are forced to work as peddlers and from farms and fields where they take up tough jobs with their families.
Keeping children in school is key in the campaign against child labor. A mandatory education system that will see preschool children enrolled earlier than the current age is among the measures being considered to keep children in school.
Turkey already has a compulsory education system in place: Four years for primary school, four years for middle school and another four years for high school. It is credited with curbing child labor trends significantly, but children are still forced to work during summer vacation.
The campaign will primarily focus on migrating agricultural workers who take their children thousands of kilometers away from their hometowns to work in fields, farms and orchards, particularly in western and northern Turkey.
Children are viewed both as a cheap labor and helpers to those families and sometimes, they skip school altogether to work alongside their parents and siblings.
Even if they do not work, families complain that they are forced to take the children with them while they work in the fields as they cannot leave them behind in their hometowns. The campaign plans to install more prefabricated schools in provinces where migrant workers work so their children will not have to work or skip school. Another plan is to create new sources of revenue for families of migrant workers in their hometowns to stop migration of parents with children to other cities.
The campaign also seeks tighter inspections by law enforcement of businesses employing children.
An awareness campaign will also be launched to urge the public to help fight child labor, while social services centers will be set up to help children saved from child labor cope with its physical impact.