Input for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
This report is submitted by Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation to inform the High Commissioner’s report on the rights of the child and inclusive social protection to be presented at the 54th session of the Human Rights Council in September 2023.
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. The empowerment-based social work we carry out at the shelter and solidarity center is grounded in feminist methods. At Mor Çatı, we strive for women and their children to be able to build and lead their lives freely, equally, and unhindered by gender-based discrimination and men’s violence. Since its establishment, Mor Çatı has supported more than 40.000 women and children to build a life free from violence. In addition to forming solidarity with women and their children on an individual basis, we monitor and report on the implementation of national and international conventions, laws, regulations, and make policy recommendations to decisions-makers in order to eliminate violence and achieve gender equality.
This report is based on the information that Mor Çatı has gained through the solidarity established with the children of women who have been subjected to male violence and with children who have contacted Mor Çatı directly or with the help of an adult.
There are multiple problems with the functioning of existing mechanisms for child protection in Turkey. There are deficiencies in the detection and interventions required for children’s access to the state protection services. Even if the experts directly provide services to children or an adult identifies that the child needs protection, various problems arise due to the functioning of the system. In addition, there is not an effective structure that provides children’s direct access to services.
In Turkey, the consequences of men’s violence against women and children are severely experienced. In an effort to combat domestic violence, Turkey signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention in 2011. In March 2012, the Law no 6284 to Protect Family and Prevent Violence against Women, based on the Istanbul Convention, was enacted and important protective measures were established for women, children and other family members who experience violence or the risk of violence. However, in March 2021, the Istanbul Convention was suddenly “abrogated” by a Presidential Decree at midnight.
Turkey is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and currently is under review by the Committee. Mor Çatı and other civil society organizations have submitted their shadow reports; list of issues has been announced and the general review is expected in June 2023. Turkey is also party to the Lanzarote Convention (The Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse).
There is a Child Protection Law (Law No.5395) in place in Turkey. According to this law, there should be local coordination meetings that bring together local public offices to undertake this law and the new measures to protect the child and to monitor the implementation of the laws and regulations. However, in practice these meetings are either not regularly held or children’s and women’s organizations are not invited to inform the local authorities about their knowledge and experiences gained on the ground.
Regarding the protection of the children, the responsible institution is the Ministry of Family and Social Services and the work regarding the UN Child’s Rights Convention is coordinated by the General Directorate of Child Services. However, there is an issue with the specialization and coordination among the different directorates of the Ministry, specifically the lack of coordination between different units of the Ministry working on children and women’s issues. One example is that the General Directorate of Child Services unit specialized on child services does not contribute to the work done by the Directorate General on the Status of Women (KSGM) in women’s shelters and social service units, which leads to the fact that the issues regarding children staying in women’s shelters with their mothers remain invisible.
In Turkey, there has been a National Children’s Rights Strategy Document and Action Plan, which was prepared for the years 2013-2017; however, the document did not specify a goal and activity plan related to domestic violence which has the most direct impact on children’s lives. The action plan stated that within the scope of the “Preventing All Forms of Violence in Education” objective, it was planned to establish a school social service system to identify and provide psychosocial support to children with an experience of violence by ensuring the necessary cooperation between children, families, and school administration. However, this plan has still not been implemented and no concrete steps have been taken to that end. The school counselors’ role in the protection system has diminished over the years which prevents the identification of violence in a fast manner and to take the necessary measures.
In regards to the measures for children to report the violence that they experience, Alo 183 “Social Support Hotline” is presented as an available hotline service for children. However, specialized support services are not provided at 183, which is the only hotline for all different groups in need of social services. The supports provided consist of basic information; those who provide support are not professionals but call center employees. In order to be able to file an official complaint, the perpetrator’s full address and personal information are required by this hotline. The hotline 183 does not take any action regarding coordination and monitoring by directing it to the relevant unit of the Ministry after receiving any notification, and we observe that the assessment of the notifications can take even a few weeks. This reveals that there is a major gap in regards to a coordinated and holistic support mechanism both on notice and after taking action. The social service units (SHM) are late to intervene and provide support. There is no coordinated social support system that would supervise and monitor the situation starting from the notification. In regards to financial supports for the protection of the children, there is socio-economic support granted by the Ministry of Family and Social Services however there are issues with the providing of this grant and the coordinated and integrative monitoring and evaluation afterwards. And more importantly, there is not any effort to raise awareness and inform the public about these support mechanisms. Children mostly do not have any information about the existence of these mechanisms and how to apply to them.
Regarding the protection of the children in cases of domestic violence, there is the Law No. 6284 in place that refers to the family members as subjects to be affected by violence and include regulations regarding children as well. However, this law and its regulations are not implemented in practice, because domestic violence against children and their needs are invisible within the system. Women are not provided with healthy and accurate information about the kind of support the law also provides to children. And more importantly, there is a prevalent family-oriented patriarchal understanding common at different levels of bureaucracy. The police forces, prosecutors, family court judges mostly have a tendency to prioritize the unity of the family to women’s and children’s rights to live free from violence. Restraining orders for the violence perpetrator, issued on women’s demands, often do not include children. While women benefit from the address confidentiality decisions made in accordance with the same law, women are not given the information that a separate address confidentiality decision is required for the child, and demands concerning children are not accepted. This situation exposes the place where women and children seek shelter and puts their safety at risk. As a result, male perpetrators find the opportunity to use violence again, either through their personal relationships with the child or through accessing information about children’s school and home address. Requests regarding temporary custody and alimony are either rejected or left unresolved on the grounds of “protecting the bond between father and child” albeit not suitable for the best interest of the child and put the mother at risk. There are cases where the judges do not limit the father’s personal relationship with the child even when the child is exposed to violence, the mother and children continue to be subjected to violence during the divorce process, and the family courts ignore this situation even though there are ongoing cases in the criminal courts. We have experiences of an increasing number of cases where the family courts have granted fathers custody and visitation rights in an effort to preserve the “integrity of the family,” but without having conducting any risk assessments for women and children or taking into account the effects of male violence against women on children or the best interests of the child. Turkey claims to establish child visitation exchange centers in order to overcome these issues; yet these centers are still not functioning properly in practice and the experts working in the field do not have sufficient knowledge and experience on the subject. In addition, considering that children continue to be exposed to violence during their visits with the father, child visitation exchange centers are not effective in reducing the security risk experienced by children and women.
A major issue is that children are often exposed to forms of physical, psychological, economic, and sexual violence at home; yet by the social protection mechanisms, other forms of violence than sexual violence are often normalized and not mentioned. A vast majority of LGBTI+ children are not supported by their families; they are exposed to psychological and physical violence and cannot access support mechanisms.
In regards to the protection of the children during the trial processes, there are Child Monitoring Centers (ÇİM) and Judicial Interview Rooms (AGO) that are claimed to be established as a measure against secondary victimization. However, there measures remain ineffective for several reasons. First of all, using these measures requires a disproportionate amount of bureaucratic burden on social workers and prosecutors that discourage them. Secondly, Child Monitoring Centers (ÇİM) can only be used in cases of the sexual abuse of the child, whereas for other cases of violence no alternative is presented. Besides, in cases where sexual abuse is in question, there is no clarity on the criteria and bureaucracy of the referral and there are different practices in different cities. Whereas, it is a common practice to take children’s statements again in court, even if they give their testimonies initially in Child Monitoring Centers (ÇİM). Besides, the methods while taking statements are not child-friendly. Thirdly, in regards to the Judicial Interview Rooms (AGO), the use of these rooms is not very common yet. There is no common knowledge on how and through which procedures these rooms can be used. These rooms are only used in sexual violence cases but they not used in divorce cases; the judges still request to take children’s testimonies in the courtroom during divorce trials, by going against the best interest of the child. In regards to both Child Monitoring Centers (ÇİM) and Judicial Interview Rooms (AGO), we observe that the prosecutors and judges do not always take the recommendations of experts into account. There are judges and prosecutors who do not have the knowledge required by these practices, and implementations against the best interests of children are implemented frequently.