An Essay on Child Employment

By Mumtaz Peker

Recently, the Turkish media has been showing a great interest in “street children”, that is one of the aspects of child employment. The subject has been treated with different contents and from different standpoints. Yet, the striking thing is the fact that the data presented during these treatments displays considerable variations. From Radikal Newspaper, Aysegul Dikenli explicated that 32,4 % (3,9 million) of children in our country between the ages 6-14 (approximately 12 million) is involved in “street works” or “any other work”. However, “1999 Child Labour Force Survey” prepared by the State Statistics Institute demonstrates that there are 1,7 million (% 10,2) economically active children in our country among 16,1 million children aged between 6-17. The difference between these two sources exceeds 3 million roughly. Even if the numbers show a great variation to some extent, it is clear that child employment is a widespread fact in our country.

Demographically, the subject is theoretically explained with two concepts. The first one is “resource allocation”, and the second is the “major transformation point”. The resource allocation among the members of a family is very much depended upon the development level of a given country. For example, in developing countries, the resources are, in general, allocated from children to parents. For the first step of this formation, an individual, during her/his childhood, works for to allocate necessary resources to their parents. And the second step develops in the way that a grown-up individual takes the responsibility of taking care of their parents and solving their all kind of problems during their old ages.

In developed countries, on the other hand, the necessary resources are allocated from parents to children. For instance, families in such countries are unavoidably engaged in various educational spendings on behalf of their children in order to sustain that these children would take place in the social system with different qualifications in comparison with their peers. In this way, more human labour is accumulated over a child. Furthermore, during their old ages, all kind of problems are resolved through the institutional structures, since the economy of these countries is the combination of these institutions. What is more is the fact that these parents have a tendency to allocate all kinds of gains of their working life acquired through their savings to their children.

Similarly, these societies are classified with another concept, that is the “major transformation point”. On that ground, it is considered as a major transformation point that resource allocation from children to parents comes to an end, and the reverse comes to the ground. Until arriving at this transformation point, families regard their children as an economic value. With respect to the countries accomplishing this transformation, on the other hand, children are appreciated psychologically. As it is deduced from these conceptions, one is accumulated, the other not.

When we make a classification with these concepts, for any country, it is hard to consider all families within a single category. Put it differently, there may be some families in a given society that fall into both of the two categories. Moreover, there may also be an additional category representing a transition in between the two categories, an “intermediary zone” allocating resources to both their parents and their children. Here, the important points to be stressed are at which point families stand and in what ways they behave towards their children in this transformation process.

In Turkey, majority of both “rural” and “rural-originated urban” families experience child-to-parent form, and they regard children as an economic value. In rural regions, not only the families (firms) engaging in market-oriented production facilities, but also the others utilise from children as a labour force. Since social security, social insurance and likewise institutional services do not cover all families in these rural regions, problems of parents during their old ages also are solved within the family structure. Additionally, child-to-parent resource allocation are not criticised much in this system, because both its realisation takes a long time and working conditions do not allow people to question the system. In a system operating through such values, fertility rates continue to be on the ascent on the one hand, and on the other hand, the necessary investments, at a family (or a firm) scale, cannot be realised enough to make the rural population in conformity with the modern conditions.

Concerning the “urban” families migrated from the countryside, approaches towards children are not able to be transformed in a day. Moreover, these rural-originated urban families have a tendency to preserve their rural values through new communication networks that come on the scene through the establishment of new spaces allowing them to interact with each other. In the last twenty years, the conditions in regard to the arrival points of the integral migrations and urban employment opportunities have transformed to a great extent in Turkey. Suburbs are not innocent settlement places anymore. Nowadays, different implications of seizing unearned urban income lie in these places. In suburbs, tenancy rates are almost equal to the ones in the well-arranged settlements. At present, people coming to the cities through internal migrations are required to make a continuous spending for their accommodation expenses. On the other hand, it is not possible to talk about the appropriateness of a rural-originated population to urban occupations.

Hence, the consequences of such a transformation feed, among adults, the feelings of fear, insecurity and pessimism for the future. However, before 1980, there was a different feeling having a dominant character in the suburb related studies. It was the period that social scientists defined as the “culture of hope”. Yet, for today, it is just the contrary, that is to say it is the “culture of pessimism” now. In these circumstances, migrants from the countryside have a tendency to prefer preventive-protective type of relationships with the fear that they would lose their identity in this new environment. In regard to these type of relationships, the striking example and first-hand recommendations are related with children’s working in a job. In this way, the investments on children’s education and the necessary human labour spendings for their development are reset to zero. And these parents regard this as a profit. Therefore, in return for their labour, the contributions of these children are regarded by their families as “it brings in at least a little money”.

In such an environment where preventive-protective relationships have a dominant value, the rules are determined by the dominants. No need to say that children are not the dominant factors in this environment; thus, it is pretty clear who takes on whole burdensome responsibilities. Here, the difference is only the degree of these burdensome responsibilities in such a way that these burdens show variations in parallel to the sector or workplace in which a child is employed.

Turkey still lives through the pains of the modernisation process; and during this process it is inevitable to experience such a disorderly period. The following facts are regarded as the compulsive factors of this transformation:

The delays in the birth and death rates to be equilibrated at a minimum degree;

High population of rural regions, and the fact that internal migrations will continue for a while accordingly.

Nevertheless, it is the system’s basic problem that this process would last long and its wounds would be serious and permanent. Undoubtedly, it is us who will make the necessary policies in regard to the solution of these problems. Without loosing any time actually.