RIGHTS-TURKEY: Jailing Kurdish Children to Undermine Dissent

Published on IPS, by Daan Bauwens, December 06, 2009.

DIYARBAKIR, Southeastern Turkey, Dec 6 (IPS) – Turkey is signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but that does not stop minors in the country’s Kurdish dominated eastern and southeastern regions from ending up with stiff jail sentences.

In fact, after amendments were recently made to the country’s anti-terror law, it is possible to charges children as terrorists and put them away for up to 50 years in jail.

According to official figures, there are currently 2,622 minors serving time in Turkish prisons. Earlier this week officials admitted that the figure was rising. 

Lawyer Canan Atabay who represents the Diyarbakir Bar Association at the European Union and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and is also a member of the Justice for Children Initiative (JCI) that has opposed indiscriminate arrests and sentencing of children for the last three years believes that the law targets Kurdish children … //

… Although 90 percent of children in jail are students, authorities interfere with parents trying to bring them course material. There is insufficient medical staff and the procedure for hospitalisation in case of serious illness is too complex and often denied.

Children brought to courthouse for the trial are often made to stay from nine in the morning until ten in the evening often with no provision for food. Sometimes they are given tomatoes or bread with chocolate spread.

As a reaction to a report drafted by the JCI earlier this year, the U.N. Children’s Rights Committee presented 14 questions to the Turkish government on the jailing of youth under the age of 18 for terrorist activities. On Oct. 2, government spokesperson Cemil Çiçek proposed three amendments to the law which are now being discussed in parliament.

Articles which allow the punishing of children by equating throwing stones with armed resistance, increased penalties under anti-terror laws or convicting children for being related to a member of a banned organisation are not being debated.

Other proposed amendments by the government are simply impossible for practical reasons, says Atabay. For instance, the government proposed trying children aged 15 to 18 in juvenile courts, but only 15 cities out of Turkey’s 81 have such courts. Where there is no juvenile court, they will continue to be tried and sentenced in an ordinary court.

The amendments do not change the government’s right to sentence children to long prison terms. It must be made impossible to put children into prison. It is not a school, Atabay said. END/2009. (full text).

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