Turkey: Submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Written by Matilde Ribetti

Human Rights Watch is an international nonprofit organization whose goal is to conduct research and promote respect for human rights at a global level. Through its submissions to the UN Committee on the Right of the Child (the Committee), the organization aims to raise awareness and highlight critical elements of a country’s profile concerning its human rights conditions to make the Committee assessment as truthful and effective as possible.         

In the report on Turkey proposed for the 93rd session of the Committee, Human Right Watch focused on three primary directives: the situation of migrant children, including their access to education and healthcare, the information on government-endorsed online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic and the protection of education from attack. 

Syrian refugee children in Turkey. Photo by UNICEF.

The situation of migrant children

The first of the issues analyzed are among the most relevant when contextualized in the Anatolian scenario: Turkey is known to be one of the major transit countries on the Mediterranean migration routes. The reasons for this go back mainly to the country’s geographic location: situated midway between the Middle East and Europe, Turkey is surrounded by a conspicuous number of countries facing political issues and security concerns constituting major push factors for migrating populations. In addition, cultural affinity with countries in the area, in terms of religious and social cultures, acts as a pull factor shaping migration routes.

Yet, the development of Turkey as an immigration country is relatively recent compared to the long history of emigration, involving at least the last three generations of Turkish citizens. In the early 1960s, the phenomenon of labour migration to Western Europe, especially to Germany, proved to be conspicuous, fostering the formation of extensive Turkish communities in most Western European countries.                          

However, the paradigm has reversed as Turkey has become a primary host country for people moving North. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, irregular immigration into the country substantially accelerated, with the most important countries of origin being Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Bangladesh.                                                    

As a direct consequence, in recent years, the Anatolian legislature has passed a vast number of measures aimed at regulating flows, imposing more penalties on human smuggling and strengthening border protections. In addition, over the years, stricter visa requirements have been implemented under EU pressure to combat irregular migration and control the influx of asylum seekers.                                                           

Indeed, it can be said that the role as a transit country has, in part, been politically constructed as a result of the concurrence of three main factors: the expansion of the European Union to the Southeast, the originally lax migration regime, and the difficulty of patrolling rugged land borders. Most importantly, the EU has played a crucial role in Turkish migration policies since the last decade, as evidenced by the EU-Turkey statement. The latter came into effect in March 2016, and it is the main agreement regulating the country’s external control policies. It further obligates the EU to provide a six-billion-euro facility to fund humanitarian aid, improve access to educational services and promote the socio-economic integration of refugees in exchange for a policy of curbing and closing borders by Turkish authorities.         

Yet, it appears that both sides didn’t fully comply with the agreed conditions: while the Union has not paid the expected amount into Turkish coffers, Ankara has not shown itself capable, if unwilling, of effectively providing migrants with the promised humanitarian aid. The report of Human Rights Watch documents several cases of mistreatment, abuse and killing of migrant children. Children are locked up in detention camps and abused by authorities without any age assessment being conducted as prescribed by the UN guidelines on Policies and Procedures in Dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum.                    

Among the first actions that Turkish authorities should take when confronted with a situation in which a minor is involved, there is to ensure that unaccompanied children seeking admission into the EU are identified as such promptly and on a priority basis. This ensures that a guardian or adviser is appointed for each minor, an interim care regime is established, and procedures to introduce children into the educational system are activated.                               

In contrast to that, Human Rights Watch sources report that authorities, in breach of the principle of non-refoulment and respect to life and bodily integrity, subjected migrants to physical abuse of different kinds, starting from deprivation of food and water to beatings and imprisonment. The border guards’ abuse peaked with the murder of several migrants, including an unidentified minor and a 15-year-old Syrian boy.                                                        

Based on this, Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to call on the Turkish government to “immediately halt pushbacks from Turkish territory and at Turkey’s borders.” For the protection of young migrants by border officials, it is crucial to accept an individual’s declared age if there is a reasonable possibility that the person is a child. In such cases, the border police should expeditiously transfer those individuals to the care of child protection authorities and promptly assign them a guardian. The authorities should ensure age assessment examinations are conducted according to international standards.” Furthermore, it is urgent to “ensure that full and fair consideration is given to all claims for international protection, including age-appropriate examination of child asylum claims by specially trained adjudicators.” If the government is responsive to these demands, safeguarding migrant children’s rights will be improved.                             

The information on government-endorsed online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic

Another crucial aspect of the analysis reported by the organization concerns the resources and means allocated to online education conducted during the quarantine period due to Covid-19.

Human Rights Watch investigated two education technology (EdTech) products used by the Turkish government, Eğitim Bilişim Ağı (EBA) and Özelim Eğitimdeyim, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both apps tracked and identified children’s devices using techniques designed for advertising purposes and sent this information to third-party companies. These data practices were neither necessary nor proportionate for these products to serve educational purposes and were found to infringe on children’s privacy. Children who relied on these apps as their primary source of education could not object to such surveillance, and the education ministry did not take measures to prevent or mitigate these abuses.                         

In light of the report’s findings, the organization calls for, among other provisions, an amendment of the existing data protection law, “the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 (2016), in order to adopt child-specific data protections that address the significant child rights impacts of the collection, processing, and use of children’s personal data.”        

Moreover, it is imperative to ensure that children’s privacy is protected by removing all tracking technologies from EBA and Özelim Eğitimdeyim and deleting any data collected from them during the pandemic. Furthermore, providing solutions for children whose information was collected using these platforms is necessary.               

In light of these recommendations, the organization hopes that the Committee will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, taking into account the most significant issues affecting young people residing in Turkey and that prompt action can be taken to address them.          


 Duvell, F. (2012). “Transit Migration: A Blurred and Politicized Concept.” Population, Space and Place 18: 415-42                                                

Içduygu, A. and Yükseker, D. (2012). “Rethinking Transit Migration in Turkey: Reality and Re-presentation in the Creation of Migratory Phenomenon,” Population, Space and Place 18: 441-456.                                                        

Franck Düvell (2018) The ‘Great Migration’ of summer 2015: analyzing the assemblage of key drivers in Turkey, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2018.1468385                                   

Kuschminder, K. et al. (2019) Decision Making on the Balkan Route and the EU Turkey Statement. WODC Report.                                               


https://www.unhcr.org/media/guidelines-policies-and-procedures-dealing- unaccompanied-children-seeking-asylum


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