by Eda Savaseri, guest blogger
“The best way to make children good is to make them happy.”
Children are our future. We always say this but which children do we mean when we say this? Our own children or children in general? Do we fail to remember that if we care about the future we need to start caring more about children in general? For instance, what about the children who have no homes, no parents, who are left to survive on their own?
Cagatay Ulusoy’s new movie on Netflix called Paper Lives made me think about this general problem in my country, Turkey. However I know that many other countries including Western countries struggle with this. We fail to protect kids. Even in their homes a lot of kids are abused, beaten, treated badly and suffer as the victim or the witness of domestic abuse. Then there are kids who think even these kids are lucky because they have to survive on the streets. They are the kids who have fallen between the cracks. They weren’t lucky enough to get protection from the government’s institutions or somehow they chose to turn their backs to the system for their own reasons.
I feel like the movie had to sugarcoat or maybe keep hidden a little of what life is really like for these kids. In reality, surviving the streets is even harder and, most of all, they don’t just have a difficult childhood but an overall difficult life because they don’t have proper education. A lot of these kids grow up to be criminals. As a society, sometimes we tend to look at criminals and think this is their choice but nobody would deliberately choose a life of crime if they had a childhood on the street.
Child Protection in Turkey
So how does the child protection system work in Turkey? It is important to understand that child abuse of any kind must be reported to the authorities immediately. One of the main reasons these things keep going on, and some children need to abandon their homes or are thrown out of their homes, is because families or friends of families don’t report these cases. Reporting these cases and giving free or cheap legal support is essential to help these children and/or their single parents.
If a report has been made, that’s when social services can intervene. Most of the time the child will be taken from the family and will either be left to foster care or will be put inside a private or public institution for children care and protection. Sometimes the government may also provide housing to the family or the parent.
Of course, providing care is the last measure. The first would be to provide counseling or education depending on the circumstances. Parents still have visiting rights when a child is in foster care. Some children can also be adopted, this is when the family is willing to give the child away completely.
At the moment Turkey also has a refugee problem. Some of the children on the streets are these refugees who have lost contact with their parents and some of them aren’t even registered so they are not able to seek legal protection or help. Turkey is working on helping these children as well and collaborates with organizations like UNICEF to help children who need protection.
Kids on the Streets
There are two types of children on the streets. The first kind is working kids, who are trying to help support their parent/s by selling water or tissue paper. Some of these kids go to school and most of them go home at night to their parents. The second kind is children who live on the streets, who have lost contact with their parents due to loss or sometimes they had to run away from abusive families. These children often hang out in groups to survive. Some of them work on the streets in various jobs like we saw in Paper Lives.
Unfortunately, as we saw in the movie, some get addicted to substances and end up hurting themselves and others. Where do they live? Mostly in abandoned apartments or unfinished construction buildings. Sometimes they break into apartments that have been empty for a long time. As I said, they almost always hang out in groups. This is necessary for their survival and I think it gives them a taste of the family they never had or lost.
Why is this happening, when the legal system is really protective of children? When the number of child protection centers are increasing and also the professionals trained in this area are increasing? Why are there still many children on the streets, especially in the suburbs if not in the biggest and richest neighborhoods? Mostly the problem lies in the system’s lack of awareness of all these kids who have not been reported. The system is only able to help those who ask for help. Even so, there is clearly still not enough housing to contain all these kids living on the streets.
Juvenile justice is also a problem because kids who commit a crime are seen as lost cases and, apart from personal efforts, the system and society don’t do what’s necessary to win these kids back and the kids find it easier to keep going in the same familiar direction.
Thankfully there are many organizations in Turkey apart from the public ones that are working on child protection. Whether it’s to help families who can’t afford their children’s education or it’s providing housing or financial help, these organizations do their best to help and to raise awareness of this social problem. I will include some of these organizations’ contact information for those who may want to hold the hand of these kids even with the smallest amount you can afford.
Everyone knows the fairy tale called Little Match Girl. It’s the saddest fairy tale. I remember reading it as a kid with tears in my eyes and asking myself, how is this possible? It’s hard to believe in such a modern world, there are still children who have to endure a tough life on the streets. Life on the street is already tough for an adult, but for a kid who needs to be nurtured and taken care of, it must be even harder.
We see them on the streets and we feel bad but we also get used to seeing them after a while. It’s a part of life, it’s not humane but still we get used to it. Today, let’s open our eyes to the truth. We don’t have to ignore them, let us open our hearts and our eyes and do the minimum we can. Firstly, never ever ignore an abused child and report immediately. Second, help whenever you can, you don’t have to take risks, you can help in a modest and risk free way by donating to many organizations and charities.
Children are our future. Not just the ones we brought to this world but all of them. When we start feeling responsible and do what we can, that’s when the world will become a better place and we will start to become better humans. Let’s build a better world together, a world ALL children deserve.
*Umut Çocukları Derneği
*Koruncuk Vakfı (Turkiye Korunmaya Muhtac Cocuklar)
Article (c) CUNA & Eda Savaseri
Eda Savaseri is a Turkish copywriter from Istanbul. She loves cats, books, chocolate and traveling. She loves sharing things that she learns and apply towards self-improvement.
She enjoys writing about a multitude of topics and loves to share her thoughts about TV Shows she's watching. You can find her blog here.