This information note is submitted by Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation to inform the Special Rapporteur and UN Child Rights Commitee on the case of unaccompanied children in the earthquake region in Turkey. We kindly invite the Rapporteur to monitor the situation and hold the Turkish State accountable to protect the best interest of the children in accordance with the international conventions and the protocols that Turkey is party to.
To the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, Ms. Reem Alsalem,
This information note is submitted by Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation to inform the Special Rapporteur on the case of unaccompanied children in the earthquake region in Turkey. We kindly invite the Rapporteur to monitor the situation and hold the Turkish State accountable to protect the best interest of the children in accordance with the international conventions and the protocols that Turkey is party to.
About the applicant organisation
Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation was established in Turkey in 1990 by a group of feminists with the purpose of combating violence against women. Since its establishment, Mor Çatı has supported more than 40.000 women and children to build a life free from violence. As Mor Çatı, we are working as part of the collaborative monitoring works carried out to prevent further violations of rights of children who were declared missing and who were also left unaccompanied in the earthquake region. This process is a result of a lack of coordination and unwillingness to investigate the claims by the state authorities following the earthquakes in Kahramanmaraş on February 6th.
Information note on the most recent developments
Since February 6th, families who were trying to find out the whereabouts of their children, or people who realized that the children were being treated in hospitals without their families, tried to find solutions with their own personal efforts. During this period, children’s rights were violated as the photos and names of children were circulated on social media, and false news was shared about them. There have been concerns about the handing over the children to adults without any supervision and the possible abductions of children; the Disaster Child Civil Coordination Team, that include children’s rights and women/feminist organizations, tried to intervene quickly in the process.
The Turkish state has not yet shared information on how the relevant Ministries plan and carry out the follow-up on the situation of children and specifically, on the situation of the children whose information is still not available. According to the latest statement of the Ministry of Family and Social Services dated February 23,
1890 unaccompanied children who were brought out of the rubble were registered.
1405 children were delivered to their families; 105 children were taken into the Ministry’s institutional care.
The treatment process of 380 children is under review.
There are 1784 identified children and 106 unidentified children.
The families/relatives still use the available hotline to search for their children in hospitals and other institutions. It is observed that the hotline does not respond adequately to the public’s need of circulating correct information in a false manner. There is a widespread concern that children may be subjected to human trafficking or other violations of their rights.
While the children in need of protection should have been under the supervision and protection of the Ministry, it was revealed that at least 20 children were placed in homes “arranged” by the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation on February 16, 2023 in Istanbul. The Ministry confirmed this claim in its reply letter, and stated that the children were staying with their mothers and were occasionally visited by Ministry officials. Again, on February 23, there were reports that 9 children were handed over to the İsmailağa community (Islamist community) by the Diyanet. These statements and news increase our suspicion that the best interests of children are not protected. First of all, both IHH and İsmailağa community have been respectively subjected to various serious allegations of supporting radical Islamist groups and children’s sexual abuse. Secondly, it was not even stated how the adults next to the children were determined to be their mothers. The Ministry in its statement attempted to diminish the reaction of the public by saying that all children are Syrian. Moreover, we would like to highlight the discriminative treatments of the public authorities among Turkish citizens and non-citizens children in Turkish legislation. According to the Article 6-G of the “Unaccompanied Minors Directive” published by the Ministry in 2015, unaccompanied non-citizen children may be handed over to anyone if the unaccompanied children confirm it so. The legislation lacks appropriate review procedure and reliable process for the best interest of unaccompanied non-citizen children. This raises our concern for the future of migrant and refugee children in Turkey.
With regard to the highlight of Syrian children in the Ministry’s statement, it is thought that the decision was taken without the necessary detailed evaluation, solely based on the declaration of these children. Based on our thirty-two years of experience, we know that male violence also affects children in disaster and crisis situations, and that children cannot be protected from neglect and abuse in Islamist communities and Islamist non-governmental organizations in Turkey, and children’s rights, which are the guarantee of children’s well-being, can easily be ignored. We see that the protection that should be offered to children and their mothers by the state is not provided. There is no functional monitoring system and coordination that will make us feel safe against serious allegations regarding the well-being of dozens of children, which we have never heard of or cannot share because we have not yet confirmed their accuracy. Despite the reports from independent journalists’ media coverage aligned with credible evidence, instead of launching urgent and effective investigation by the Ministry, the Minister stated these journalistic efforts and campaigns and calls by relevant NGOs as disinformation.
We have not yet received a response to our official applications and campaigns to take urgent measures regarding the current situation. We think that monitoring on the subject is critical for the protection of the rights of children.
With this application we kindly ask for monitoring, questioning relevant authorities of the Ministry of Family and Social Services and the Department of Child Services under the Ministry, mapping the violations of state in relation to unaccompanied children in the quake affected areas and publishing recommendations for the state. We would like to provide further assistance and information in case of need.
Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation
 The relevant article 6-G states: “Taking into account the opinion of the unaccompanied child, the unaccompanied children are placed in the appropriate institution or unit, with adult relatives or a foster family.”