Turkey is host to the largest number of refugees in the world including 3.7 million Syrians under Temporary Protection, half of which are children. Over 98% of Syrians under temporary protection live in urban and rural areas across Turkey, with less than 2% residing in the seven remaining Temporary Accommodation Centres. Turkey is also home to a further 400,000 refugees and people seeking asylum, with the largest populations coming from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. For many refugees, meeting basic needs is a daily challenge. At least 1.8 million refugees in Turkey are living below the poverty line, including 280,000 living in extreme poverty.
There are over a million school-age refugee children in Turkey, with over 35% out of school. Despite relative increases in enrolment and attendance rates for Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) in Turkey within the past 10 years, the figures are still lower than the targets of the Ministry of National Education. Poverty, constraints on basic services, peer bullying and lack of social cohesion have been identified as major factors contributing to school drop-out rates. In addition, while registered Syrian refugees have access to free healthcare and education; unregistered Syrians do not have the right to access these services.
Turkey has one of the highest rates of child marriage among OECD countries. The rate of child marriage is particularly high among refugee communities. Girls are at risk of being taken out of school to get married due to cultural practice to "secure their future" or ease financial pressure on the household.
One of the most urgent issues facing Turkey is the unemployment rate among the working population and young people. Financial stress can also lead to children being subject to child labour– particularly boys. Children are found working in exploitative and hazardous conditions. A significant percentage of children in Turkey are working and recent data shows it’s getting worse. According to 2019 government estimates, the number of children aged between 5-17 engaged in economic activities was around 720 000. Organisations acting in the field predict this figure to be much higher, estimating it to be over 2 million.
The COVID-19 outbreak is putting the most vulnerable children in Turkey – refugees and migrants, children with disabilities, children of agricultural workers, and others living in poor or marginalised households – at risk due to the interruption or significant reduction of essential non-health services such as education, child protection, and social protection. The dramatic loss of livelihoods and income has been compounded by a lack of savings for the most vulnerable groups in society. Many refugees struggle to meet the costs of basic needs such as food, rent, hygiene and other daily expenses during this period.
In light of this, we have adapted our programme implementation to this context. COVID-19 measures taken by the Turkish government automatically resulted in a substantial change for children’s lives in Turkey. Save the Children helped to provide distant education support, remote psychosocial support and different forms of digital interventions to help children who cannot access basic services.
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