Kurdish Children in Turkish Prisons went Hungry rather than go Unheard


On July 14, eight children in the city of Urfa, Turkey decided to engage in one of the most common forms of protest in order to carry their demands to the Turkish prison administration. Having gone through a hunger strike of an undetermined amount of time, the children’s demands were:

  • To end all oppression of child prisoners by prison administration
  • To have the right to all of their belongings
  • To be allowed  a television
  • To be free from handcuffs during court transfers

Lastly, the children wanted to be transferred to the adult political prisoner’s section of the E-type Urfa prison. The children’s last demand may seem counter-intuitive to those not familiar with the restrictive navigation of Turkey’s prison system. However, it is the result of a half-hearted set of reforms implemented one year ago to Turkey’s draconian Anti-Terror law. Had the children been imprisoned last year, they would have been charged as adults and held in the Special Heavy Penal Courts, which specialize in matters of organized crime, state-security, and terrorism. But as part of its quest to join the European Union, Turkey amended part of its 2006 Anti-Terror Law. Amnesty International reported that  “all children previously convicted under anti-terrorism legislation will have their conviction quashed.”

Thus, these eight children were neither charged as adults nor tried in the Special Heavy Penal Courts. The fact still remains that they were unfairly detained for their involvement with a banned organization, in this case the PKK. By asking to be joined with the adults who are being held under similar charges of PKK involvement, the children’s point is loud and clear. Regardless of the reforms, the Anti-Terror law is still capturing children and adults alike with broad sweeps that seize more innocent civilians than legitimate threats to national security. Under the terms of the law, even partaking in a hunger strike that occurs within the context of a banned organization (in this case, the PKK) can result in being prosecuted as a terrorist offense.

The consequences of the harsh Anti-Terror law on adults are of course, notable. However, the consequences on children are particularly poignant. A report by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation showed that one out of every three children detained ended up abandoning education. Considering that the report tracked over four thousand children detained from the span of 2006-2010, a considerable number of Kurdish children were discouraged from pursuing education because of their arrest. Another issue that the report highlights is abuse and harassment by police, even if the children are then released by the court itself.

“Some children are constantly being kept under observation by the police on their way to school, in the neighbourhood and on the street. After some time, this develops into harassment like saying “We will arrest you again” and into oppression such as saying “What are you doing on the street? Don’t wander around or we will take you into custody.”

The problem of Kurdish children in Turkish children needs far more attention than the reforms that were passed last year. The criminalization of their political activity because it is constructed as a threat to Turkish state security is a major tool in the repression of Kurdish areas of Turkey. While the reforms that were passed last year were a step to advance children’s rights in the Turkish prison system, they do little to advance the rights of Kurdish children in the prison system, because it strips the political Kurdish aspect of their identity from the reason that they are in prison. As Turkey continues its efforts to paint itself as worthy of full admittance to the European Union, Kurdish children and political prisoners will continue being deprived of their human and civil rights.

A 2010 BBC report on the subject: