Written by Sara Ahmed
Turkish President Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement since the corruption investigations of December 2013. According to data from January 2023, around 520 children under six are in prison with their mothers in Turkey. Around 14.000 women are in Turkish prisons; children accompany 470. The facilities and conditions in which these babies and children live are deplorable. No child should have to go through that.
After the aftermath of a coup attempt in July 2016, thousands of women were unlawfully jailed in Turkish prisons. The number of children accompanying their mothers in prison skyrocketed in Turkey after the coup attempt. Children and their mothers are being illegally held in prisons in poor conditions. The actual problem is not the conditions of the prisons, but the problem is that the babies are in prison. Prisons are not a place for babies and small children to grow up. These are the most fundamental years for children to grow up and enjoy life. Being held in prison and not exposed to real life can lead to traumas in later life. Children should be free and explore the world, not be stored in a place lacking the facilities to host these babies and children.
Turkey’s penal code states that mothers with children younger than six months should have their prison sentences suspended. This rule, however, doesn’t apply when individuals are convicted of having links to a terrorist organization. Many of these women are often being accused of being “FETO” members, which, most of the time, are baseless accusations. If the father is at home, the children are still forced to grow up in prison instead of with the child’s father.
Inmates are suffering from freezing temperatures, foul drinking water and poor treatment. The adverse effects were even worse during the Covid Pandemic, which lowered the already low prison standards. The research by the Rights of Life Association (published in September 2021) made several recommendations, including deferred sentences for women who have a child younger than six-years-old and access to gynecologists for pregnant women and pediatricians for infants and children constantly.
These babies and children have done nothing wrong and should not be punished for something their parents might have done. Children should not have to grow up behind bars.
Children are being cut off from the outside world and cannot participate in social and cultural activities. That harms physical and mental well-being and will cause problems connecting with society later in life. Turkey should consider how this impacts the child’s and the parent’s lives.