General Evaluation of Child Labour Studies in Turkey

By Prof. Dr. A. Gurhan Fisek

In Turkey, scientific studies on child labour problem have first started to sprout after 1979, “Child Labour Year”. In the light of the data presented by these studies, idea production and awareness raising efforts on child labour issues have gradually intensified.

Child labour related activeness has come on the scene only after the area of activity has been recognised and defined.

Considering the press releases on child labour, we come across first with the newspaper articles. Especially after 1987, after the Apprenticeship, Foremanship and Mastery Law was approved, the law and its applications have become a subject-matter of the articles published at Turkish newspapers, aiming at awareness rising on that matter.

Newspaper articles have been followed by the articles published in various periodicals which have clarified the matter in depth and have presented various findings acquired from the researches carried on that matter. Especially in the first years of 1980′ and 90′, child labour studies have led the problem to be defined thoroughly.

After 1992, books and the multiplication of studies have become widespread. For this wide-spreading, IPEC (the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour) project developed by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has played a major role. As the relevant publications are examined, it can be noticed that both the publishing organisations and the relevant studies published are generally taken place under the scope of this program.

For today, it can be observed that several public, professional and non-governmental organisations having a considerable weight in social life have been in close co-operation and in reciprocal communication through a Consultative Committee in order to eliminate child labour.

Since the last ten years, the number of studies carried out by these organisations are more that the ones of the previous 65 years. The last ten years’ agenda has been shaped by the objectives and solutions on working children that were determined in the “1990′ Child Politics National Congress”.


The period during which preparatory studies were made through the front-meetings realised between March 23-24 1989 with a great participation, and which was for ascertaining the situation and problems of child workers together with ascertaining the necessary solutions for them has been finalised with “1990” Child Politics National Congress” (May 26-27, 1989 Ankara). These studies have become widespread together with the ratification of the Child Rights Declaration in Turkey, and it has been endeavoured to have relevant applications influenced accordingly.

1990′ Child Politics National Congress Report classifies the school-age children in Turkey as follows:

1. Full-time working children;
2. Part-time working children;
3. Children working only during the summer holidays when the schools are temporarily closed down for a vacation;
4. Children working during extra-school hours;
5. Non-working children;
6. Children both not working and not attending schools.

Child labourers constitute the first two entries of this classification; and they may also be sorted out under these three sub-groups:

7. Child labourers working in the status of a “child worker”;
8. Child labourers working in the status of an “apprentice”;
9. Children living or working in the streets.

These designations have been put forth for consideration through ten-year-old accumulation of knowledge and experience of the experts participated in the meeting; and have appeared as novel classifications for Turkey. Similarly, considering these days, there has been another new and significant ascertaining: “Unless radical transformations take place in the economic, social and cultural spheres, child labour reality cannot be eliminated. In that context, all insisting pressures make child workers to be in more vulnerable position. Therefore, necessary precautions that are to be benefited from in the “short-run” should be preferred.”

This noteworthy ascertaining has been also fairly distinctive in regard to the ILO/IPEC program to be directed, the program practice of which has been decided to put in 1992. When this program has been first brought up, it has had a radical standpoint against child labour as it can be clearly deducible from the name of the program. Especially Turkey and the other five participant countries of this program (Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya and Thailand) have set forth that this objective can only be achieved in the long-run and child labour reality could not be eliminated “by force” unless the existing social, economic and cultural conditions change. Then, this claim has been appropriated; and for today, one can observe a two-phased strategy appropriated.

For the first one, “short-term” program objectives are under consideration; and by these, facilitating the lives of child workers have been aspired. Among these, melioration of working environments, provision of necessary health services and improvement of leisure time facilities and educational opportunities can be enumerated.

The second phase, on the other hand, is the primary objective: withdrawing children from working life. However, this can only be achieved through the accompaniment of essential social policies and through dealing with poverty, unemployment and social insecurity in the “long-run”. Raising public awareness, bringing up the matter for consideration with all its dimensions and stressing the desperation of children are the first steps to attain this objective. Short-term program objectives, additionally, ensure that children are introduced with their rights and contemporary living opportunities that the human rights documents provide for themselves.

In order to provide the necessary solutions, the report classifies the studies that are to be carried out as follows:

10. Deferring children’ getting into the working life:
11. As the most effective method, increasing the compulsory primary education period to 8 years;
12. Encouraging the researches to be carried out on that matter;
13. Making reliable policies on working children, and assembling a “persistent monitoring committee” in order to guarantee inter-organisational co-ordination, and etc.
14. Eradicating the controversies regarding the minimum employment age of children;
15. Enacting the long-time awaited regulations as soon as possible, which are cited at the 82nd article of the Labour Law and through which the provision of health and training services are to be regulated;

(Inten years time after the report, there has been observed aconsiderable progress except for the “e” clause)

16. Improving the status of child labourers working as a “child worker”:
17. Taking children working in the agricultural sector under the protection of the Labour Law;
18. Providing the essential education for primary school children in a way they may acquire occupational knowledge and skills; and taking local characteristics of villages into account;
19. Effectuating occupational health and safety inspections of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security;
20. Execution of the protective service liabilities specified by the SII (Social Insurance Institution) Law;
21. Elimination and improvement of the implementation defects at workplaces that are obliged to keep an occupational physician as required by the law; and through collective units, the appropriation of this contemporary opportunity by small-scale enterprises that are not legally obliged to do so and that employ mostly child workers.

(Inten years time after the report, intense efforts have been put in order to realise “c” and “e” clauses, and model studies have been developed accordingly.)

22. Improving the status of child labourers working as an “apprentice”:
23. Putting an emphasis on issues like occupational decision and orientation;
24. Utilising from new occupations, occupational branches and technological innovations in vocational training facilities;
25. Avoiding from repetitions in vocational training; and its integration with the informal education facilities;
26. Ensuring that apprentices acquire the characteristics of a worker, in addition to that of a student;
27. Improving the health-safety branches at workplaces in which apprentices acquire practical skills; for this reason, effectuating occupational health and safety inspections; and employment of apprentices only at the workplaces that are compatible with these qualifications;
28. Improving school health organisations in all formal education institutions.

(In ten years time after the report, intense efforts have been put on allthe issues except for the “d” and “f” clauses)

29. Improving the position of children working and/or living in the streets:
30. Reducing the extreme necessity of earning money among children;
31. Opening up social service offices that are integrated or not integrated with health clinics;
32. Living in the streets or leaving their homes, providing these children with shelter opportunities.

(Inten years time after the report, this matter has become a currentissue due to the fact it has become serious as the migrations havebecome intense. In order to overcome this problem, serious effortsand model studies have been put for consideration.)

The importance of this study lies in the fact that it appears as a significant document identifying the applications taken place in ten years time after the report. As it is mentioned above with short notes, almost all the proposals have been taken into consideration; for some of them, pilot projects and “model” studies have been carried out; and the possibilities of realising them have been tested. The ones that have not been reached to that stage so far, on the other hand, have been taken on the agenda gradually.

On that ground, although children have not been provided with the “opportunity to be able to enjoy their childhood”, it does not appear as a sole dream anymore that they would overcome this period with a minimum loss.

As the action programs on child labour in Turkey are analysed, four groups of studies call our attention:

33. Concerning with vocational training problems of children:
1. Apprenticeship-Foremanship-Mastery System:

Followed by the endeavour of human beings to earn a living, the exercise of teaching and transferring the work to son and daughter had been transformed into a work taught to an apprentice by a master; and this system, as much as we know, was organised under the frame of “Ahi” corporations.

Untilthe 19th century, Ahi system and following gedik(fixed capital) practices were persistently influential in thesocio-economic life of the Ottoman Empire. Yet, it gradually diminished as the capitalism spread over the world and as the system became incompatible with the capitalist enterprises. Finally, the “system” was totally banned in 1908. However, abolishment of the guild system in the Ottoman context did not hamper the apprentice-foreman-master relations and the vocational training manners related to these; and these relations have been carried up to now by being adapted to new emerging conditions.

2. Bilateral Education & Apprenticeship Education:

Adopted in 1926, the Turkish Code of Obligations has made the signing of the “apprenticeship contract” possible; yet it has not proposed any regulation for the agenda in regard to apprentice-foreman-master relations. Until the Code of Apprenticeship, Foremanship and Mastery (Law No. 2089) was approved in 1997, no regulation whatsoever has been actualised in spite of the related efforts. The experiences acquired after 1997 allowed the Apprenticeship and Vocational Training Code (Law No. 3308) to be approved and its being put into practice at the national scale. Nowadays, through the applications directed by the Ministry of Education-General Directorate of Informal Education, apprentices are ensured to continue their theoretical-practical education at the Apprenticeship Education Centres to which children below the age of 18 can be registered while utilising from the social insurance opportunities.

3. Bilateral Education – MEKSA Projects:

They are such educational studies that are based upon workplace-school integration and that are carried out at these two separate educational environments. For this reason, both schools-teachers and workplaces-masters-occupational organisations (as workplace representatives) are held responsible for these studies to be carried out. MEKSA projects, in that context, are carried out by the active participation of the artisan associations, unions and federations and of related confederations. They have been fulfilling their works through the education centres established in various regions of Turkey.

34. Concerning with the problems of children working in the agricultural sector:
1. Studies of the Turkish Development Foundation (TDF):

TDF executes several social development studies in various rural regions, especially in Duragan. It aims to reduce the requisites of whole family members considering the fact that the following situations occur due to rural poverty and incapacity: child trafficking; children’ leaving their homeland due economic difficulties; and their being employed in heavy works. With such enterprises, TDF seems to have passed the test in regard to its notifying the society on seasonal trafficking of child workers and its efforts on diminishing the problem.

35. Concerning with the problems of children that are paid workers (especially) in the manufacturing sector:
1. Fisek Model:

This study aims to improve child labour employing working environments and to ensure that child workers utilise from the “occupational health and safety” services, especially from the preventive medicine services, including the “social” dimension of such provision. This model is carried out by Fisek Institute, the preparatory studies of which started in 1982 and which organises small-scale enterprises around shared health-safety units. The model is composed of mobile clinics (mobile unit) visiting these enterprises regularly; school health units formed at the Apprenticeship Education Centres; and “health centres” founded at the small-scale industrial regions in which all these studies are carried out. These studies were supported under the scope of ILO/IPEC project in 1992, and this led all these efforts to progress forward. Today, the institute has proven itself to be self-sustaining and self-financing; and continues to provide these services at five centres in Istanbul, Ankara and Denizli.

Foremost, this model intends to put social precautions into practice targeting firstly occupational health and safety precautions and child worker employing small-scale enterprises. It has been the initiator of various “firsts” in Turkey, while it bears these “firsts”and “originalities” at the world scale as well. Amongthese, we can mention the services embracing more 500 small-scale enterprises, its intermingling the aspects of medicine, engineering and social sciences; its combining the gender studies with the ones targeting girl child apprentices, and its modular structure consisting of several centres uniting around a same focus. Compatible with the community medicine approach, this model has achieved its sustenance through the regular contributions of small-scale enterprises.

2. Turk-Is (The Confederation of Turkish Trade Union Workers and Employers) Model:

Five-year-old studies of Turk-Is Child Labour Office are the reflections of an evident program and approach that are to be observed with great interest not only in Turkey, but also in various other countries (especially the developing countries). Turk-Is maintains the idea that the solution of the child labour problem and the protection of child rights lie in the active efforts of trade unions. Accordingly, it rejects such an unionism the responsibilities of which are only limited with the trade union members. Under the scope of this understanding, it has been intensifying its studies since 1993 with a persistent effort on the melioration of the working conditions of child workers; directing these children to attend schools; and elimination of child labour. Accordingly, its efforts can be elaborated as follows:

36. It identified hundreds of children’ working and living conditions; and annexed the child labour problem to its educational studies with the contribution of trade unions as well.
37. It spread its efforts to be considered at the national scale by means of researches, national seminars and symposiums, bulletins, books, brochures and posters; and annexed the problem to the national agenda as well.
38. All these efforts aim at the attainment of the following objectives: as a labour organisation, playing an active role in the implementation of Child Rights Convention through “Multi-Dimensional Action Plan”; reflecting this convention to the collective bargaining contracts; directing children and their families in order to save children from hazardous and risky conditions; ensuring that necessary socio-economic policies are put into practice, the policies that are in favour of the common people and that are in order to guarantee the welfare of people and to combat with poverty.

1. IDDG (Workplace Inspection Consultancy Group) Practice:

Utilising from the opportunities of the “Bylaw on Practical Education Providing Workplaces and their Inspection” published at the Official Gazette (dated Jan. 5, 1992), “Workplace Inspection and Constultancy Groups” have been established under the scope of “Tradesmen and Artisans Association”. Regarding this study executed by TESK, IDDG takes place at the base (bottom) of an organisational structure operating in the form of association-union-federation-confederation relations as the closest unit to members and workplaces. In this study, the problems are aimed to be resolved mildly and flexibly by means of inspections combined with consultancy services, rather than through the means of penalty. All these studies can be enumerated as the convenience of instructors; the convenience of workplaces; compatibility of education with the program; compatibility of employment with contracts and laws.

39. Concerning with the problems of street children:
1. The Centre of Working Children in Ankara Streets:

Thestudies started with an agreement made between the GreaterMunicipality of Ankara and ILO/IPEC aim to concentrate on the following objectives: solving the problems of street children in regard to their families; overcoming the problems they face at schools if they are attending schools; ensuring their rehabilitation; orienting them towards a safer future; hence, prevention of their abuse and neglect. For this reason, 1200 square meter field taking place at Sıhhiye (Ankara) Multilevel Parking Garage has been utilised since July 1, 1993, which was arranged in order to serve 200 children directly. This centre provides nourishment and health care services, sportive and animation facilities, and educational support for street children, in addition to the studies on the acquisition of healthy and lasting jobs. Furthermore, psychological consultation, treatment and orientation services are provided for the families as well.

Based upon a sentence in the Law on Protection of General Health, the minimum age of child employment was accepted as 12 for a long time. This minimum age requirement was raised to 15 with an amendment made in the Labour Law in 1983 (Article No. 67). According to the same article, it was allowed for children at the age of 13 to engage in light works that do not jeopardise their attendance to schools, vocational training or orientation programs, and their competence to utilise from educational facilities.

However, the “Apprenticeship Contract”, coming on the scene with the Code of Obligations approved in 1926, became an opportunity for child workers to be employed as “apprentices”. This implementation was nourished with the enactment of the “Apprenticeship, Foremanship and Mastery Law” in 1977, and of “Apprenticeship and Vocational Training Law” in 1986. However, all these caused to a disagreement to occur between the “labour-related” and “educational” units of the state.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security defines these children as “worker”, since the definition is based upon the fact that child workers actually engage in the production process 5 days in a week. However, the Ministry of Education defines them as “student” with a claim that these children receive theoretical education once a week at Apprenticeship Education Centres, and practical education 5 days in a week at the relevant workplaces. The Apprenticeship and Vocational Training Law, on the other hand, both defines these children as “student” and appraises them under the scope of partial insurance.

In Turkey, social reality proves that children get into the working life at an early age. No prohibition and obstructing effort whatsoever have proven this fact to be wrong. Specialists agree upon that eight years compulsory primary education implementation lessens the number of full-time working children; but at the same time it is stated that child labour is to change in form due to the persistent necessities that force children to get into the working life. The increase in the number of children working during extra-school hours bears various disadvantages for working children since they are not to utilise from the protectiveness of the Labour Law.

The immediate future will be a scene for the endeavours to prepare a better future for our children through new researches and action programs.

What we wish is that the elimination of child labour, that we estimate its realisation in the long-run, would be realised “urgently” by overcoming poverty, unemployment and social insecurity as well.