Kurdish children in Turkish jails stir public outcry

Detentions against UN conventions: rights groups


The detention of Kurdish children in Turkish prisons stirred indignation amongst human rights groups and raised concerns about the future of the country with an entire generation brought up in jail.

Hundreds of Kurdish children, some as young as 11 years old, have been prosecuted by Turkish authorities as part of the country’s clampdown on rebels in the restive southeast. The children are put in jail under Turkey’s anti-terrorist laws which, human rights groups contend, are in violation of the U.N. conventions of children.

The children, according to activists, are tried in anti-terrorist courts and are sent to adult jails. Their files are treated as confidential and lawyers have very little access to the details of their cases as well as to the defendants themselves.

The detention of children, lawyers and activists argue, is bound to place an enormous burden on the state in the future as a whole generation will be brought up in prison, said Ismail Durgun, head of the Hakkari Bar Association, which has defended several of the arrested children.

“The state is not punishing the children, but is punishing itself,” Durgun added. “When they enter prison they are just kids. When they leave they are militants.”

Analysts agree with Durgun and point out that children are indoctrinated by older prison inmates and decide to take part in the armed struggle after their release. This is intensified by the harsh treatment they receive and which increases their resentment against the government.

Durgun refuted the government’s claims that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) uses children and that all the detainees belong to the separatist organization only because they might have taken part in a protest in favor of the group.

The state is not punishing the children, but is punishing itself

Head of the Hakkari Bar Association Ismail Durgun

No fair trial

The cases of these children, Durgun added, are not dealt with justly whether in terms of trials, access to lawyers, or even in the children’s awareness of their situation.

"These children don't get a fair trial. The files are secret so we can't prepare the case and sometimes there is no evidence. Children don't even understand why they are in prison."

According to the testimonies of child detainees, conditions are extremely harsh inside prisons. They wait for months to be put on trial and several of them are released only to be arrested again.

In addition to the limited access they have to lawyers, the children’s parents do not in many cases speak Turkish and cannot communicate with the authorities in order to find a solution to their ordeals.

Durdu Kavak, the chief prosecutor in the predominantly Kurdish Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast and the venue of most trials, said he was not authorized to give details about the cases of detained Kurdish children without prior permission from the justice minister in Ankara.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan passed several laws to grant the Kurdish minority more rights, hoping for an imminent end to the 26-year old armed struggle and said that child prosecution laws need to be changed.

The parliament is currently looking into a bill that calls for the reduction of penalties inflicted upon children in terrorism-related offences and for the placement of under-age detainees in juvenile facilities.

“We do not want to lose our kids,” said Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin. “We want to win them back but families must be aware of the consequences of their children's actions."

Activists fear that in the wake of the recent upsurge in PKK, the bill will not be met with enthusiasm by ultra-nationalists who support military suppression of the group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by
Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

The condition of Kurdish children, together with the suppression of Kurds in general, constitutes one of the several hindrances to Turkey’s hopes of joining the European Union.

We do not want to lose our kids

Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin