This additional report is prepared by Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter Foundation for the 93rd Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (8-26 May 2023)
With the upcoming general elections in Turkey combined with the effects of the earthquake catastrophe, the ongoing political instability has deepened that leads to lack of rule of law, political accountability and the increasing gap between law and implementation.
The fact that Turkey has not submitted its report in response to the List of Issues in relation to the combined fourth and fifth periodic reports by February 15 demonstrates the lack of political will and accountability to effectively implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Since the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, Mor Çatı has emphasized how the Istanbul Convention, which is also the main reference of the domestic law on violence against women-the Law No. 6284, draws attention to gender inequality as the source of male violence and envisions a holistic approach; and raised our concerns about the withdrawal. In the List of Issues, the Committee has also emphasized the necessity to ensure the integrated policies in all legislative, administrative and judicial proceedings and decisions as the best interest of the child to be taken into consideration. Yet, it is worrying that the Istanbul Convention is not mentioned in the List of Issues. It is still very important to keep Turkey accountable on the unlawful decision of withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention and its effects on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The mechanisms to combat against male violence in the aftermath of February 6, 2023 earthquakes
The lack of coordination and cooperation among government institutions at the national, regional and local levels, integrated policies and the gender equality approach that Mor Çatı has been experiencing for many years now are manifested clearly in the response to the earthquake disaster. Turkey’s general regulatory and legislation system lack policies regarding the identification, provision of women’s and children’s needs and the protection prior to disaster, during and after the disaster. The Turkey Disaster Response Plan does not envision any specialized measures regarding women and children.
The earthquakes on February 6, 2023 have affected the lives of children who were exposed to or at risk of male violence. Mor Çatı’s field visits and monitoring of the situation show that there is a major issue with the organization and coordination of the support mechanisms to prevent the risk of children being exposed to violence, to identify the situation if they are exposed, and to direct the child to the relevant support mechanisms. A widely-available education system and effective social service mechanisms are not yet organized. Adolescents and their specialized needs are not taken into consideration by the support mechanisms for children. Girls are discriminated against by the support mechanisms and refugee children are denied access to services. All children, including the children of women who had to migrate due to the earthquake and who were exposed to violence, have difficulties in accessing even basic humanitarian aid. Mainly, the vital issue in the prevention and detection of violence is the fact that most of the children in the region are excluded from the support mechanisms.
Women and their children who experience male violence and who are affected by the earthquake have difficulty in accessing mechanisms to combat violence as the responsible authorities such as family courts, social service units, law enforcement, are still not functioning in their former functions. The issues with the access to rights and support mechanisms that have been already prevalent before the earthquake have intensified.
After the earthquake, the lack of protection mechanisms for children in Turkey have caused violations and loss of rights, in some cases permanently. While the missing and unaccompanied children have experienced permanent loss of rights due to the lack of coordination by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Family and Social Services, children who need support due to domestic violence have also faced difficulties. The cease of services put children at risk of domestic violence. The relevant Ministries are unprepared for possible domestic violence and sexual abuse cases in the changing housing conditions after the disaster, and have not taken any preventive measures, and have not intervened effectively in cases.
Ongoing issues with the custody and visitation rights and the enforcement of the existing law on the minimum age of marriage since the submission of Mor Çatı’s shadow report
Family courts in Turkey grant fathers custody and visitation rights in an effort to preserve the “integrity of the family” 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. The visitation days pose a life safety risk for the women and their children, as well as the negative psychological effects. During visitation days, men pressure the children to find out where the women live, and sometimes even kidnap the children and threaten the women to return. The men manipulate the children by accusing the mother or threatening to harm or kill the mother to learn the address of the shelter or the women’s place of residence that is protected by a confidentiality order. Violation of the confidentiality of address, especially in cases where women and children stay in the shelter, risks not only the safety of that women and children, but also all women and children staying in the shelter, as well as the shelter workers. 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.
There is an ongoing issue with the enforcement of the existing law on the minimum age of marriage of 18 years without exceptions. One example is that there has been a recent case of a woman leaked to the press who was forced to marry a 29-year-old man at the age of 6. The previous investigations were dropped until the case was leaked to the press and currently the trial proceedings that are supposed to be open to the public are closed. According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), the country’s statistical authority, 24.2 percent of the women in Turkey were younger than 18 when they were married for the first time in 2021.