UNITE FOR CHILDREN-- UNICEF

Say Yes, Winter 2007: Preventing Child Poverty in Turkey

Eight children, Van, Eastern Turkey

Children, Van, Eastern Turkey. Photograph by Rana Mullan © UNICEF Turkey 2006

Turkey is not a poor country by global standards, although the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat) found that a fifth of the population were at risk of poverty in 2005. Public awareness tends to be limited to the misapprehension that such widespread poverty is a problem of individuals themselves rather than the lack of an adequate social support system. Awareness of how poverty affects children, excluding this most vulnerable group from access to basic amenities, protection and participation in society, is more limited still.

A girl on a street in Tekirdağ, Northern Turkey

According to Turkstat, approximately 5.7 million children under fifteen years of age were living in poverty in 2004
Photograph by Rana Mullan
© UNICEF Turkey 2006

Preventing child poverty

Aiming to stimulate further public debate and at the same time to discuss the immediate policy implications of this complex issue — in particular social expenditure for children — the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Social Services and Child Protection Agency (SHÇEK) hosted a conference on Preventing Child Poverty in June 2006 with the support of the Delegation of the European Commission to Turkey and UNICEF.

Children and their families were invited to take part in the conference along with representatives of government ministries, academics, NGOs, the media and the private sector. During the course of the two–day conference, participants followed a series of panel discussions that reviewed the status quo, assessed current statistical data, identified key challenges and examined the policy implications of:

  • a budget for children;
  • child labour;
  • early childhood;
  • education;
  • access to basic services;
  • child protection;
  • empowerment and participation of children and their families;
  • the perspective of NGOs and academics on child poverty.

Conference outcomes were instrumental in the subsequent development of policy — specifically in the preparation of Turkey’s Joint Inclusion Memorandum (JIM) with the European Commission which outlines the principle challenges and responses to poverty and social exclusion.

Conference delegates

Adolescent participants at the Conference argued for the need to understand poverty from the child’s perspective
Photograph by Rana Mullan © UNICEF Turkey 2006

Poverty reduction strategies

It was generally agreed that improved employment opportunities for adults — especially women — would go some way towards alleviating child poverty. According to Turkstat, Turkey’s labour force participation rate was quite low in 2006 at 46% with women comprising less than 25% of the registered workforce. However, the problem of child poverty is much more complex than the issue of income, encompassing a range of issues that are crucial to the well–being and development of children such as:

  • access to health care;
  • access to day care;
  • pre–school education;
  • access to primary, secondary and tertiary level education;
  • good nutrition and physical development;
  • child protection;
  • the right to live in a family environment.

As dependents, children add to the cost of running a household and the poverty rate of a family will rise according to the number of children — particularly in rural areas where cash income is more limited.

Cash support systems such as the Green Card, providing health care for those who could not otherwise afford it, or the Conditional Cash Transfer scheme, which enables low income families to send their children to school, have proven to be effective poverty reduction strategies in Turkey. It follows that the provision of income support to families of limited means would alleviate child poverty amongst the most vulnerable low income groups.

The disposition of budgetary resources for health and education needs to be revised since it currently reinforces inequalities in access to these essential services: a third of Turkey’s expenditure on both comes from household budgets, placing them well beyond the lower income quintiles who quite simply cannot afford the out–of–pocket expense. The new law providing universal health insurance to all children up to their eighteenth year will have a beneficial effect on health outcomes for children affected by poverty. A similar investment in access to quality education would double the return of public investment in children.

Mother and child

UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report for 2007 argues that women’s empowerment in the household, the workplace and the political sphere will have a direct and positive effect on poverty reduction
Photograph by Rana Mullan © UNICEF Turkey 2006

Perhaps the most fundamental change that Turkey could effect for the elimination of child poverty would be to meet the third Millennium Development Goal to empower women and achieve gender equality. As catalysts for change and advocates of children’s rights, the full and equal participation of women in the household, the workplace and the political sphere has proven to be the most lasting solution to child poverty the world over.

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