Shock figures reveal extent of underage pregnancy among Syrian refugees

A shocking report has revealed that 106 of 148 underage girls who gave birth at the Kepez Public Hospital in Turkey’s southern resort province of Antalya are unrecorded Syrian migrants, Gazete Duvar reported on Monday.

The Child Rights Center of Antalya Bar Association has called on the Antalya Governor’s Office to launch an investigation into the matter by submitting a report, demanding the number of registered and non-registered Syrian children be determined.

“This [148] is the number just at the Kepez Public Hospital. We have to take precautions urgently in that regard. We have lots of non-registered Syrian children living in our city. They have to be determined and protected before they are being pushed to crime and being subjected to abuse. We have to provide them with accommodation, health services, and education,” said Serap Ertugrul, the head of the center.

The girls are aged between 14 and 17 years old. Ertugrul also questioned the fate of the new-born babies and their mothers, asking what the government was doing in the aftermath accordingly.

Ertugrul added that the number of investigations launched into the child abuse cases in Antalya since the beginning of 2018 was just 421, which she claimed was just the official records in the judicial authorities.

“There are more [child abuse] cases which have not been reflected in the official records. We have filed a criminal complaint against the public officials who have malpractice [in that regard] and demanded they be suspended from their public duties,” the head said.

In Turkey, the marriage of underage children is an offense which is regarded as child abuse. Further, Syrians living and having born in Turkey are subject to Turkish law.

Bugra Kagan Oguz, the chair of the Association for the Fight against Child Abuse and Children’s Right (CocukCa) and a lawyer, said they have been struggling to reach Syrian families and their children as most of them live in the country unrecorded.

Oguz said most of the Syrians are working as farm laborers in the rural areas far from the authorities as they have not been allowed by to legally enter the resort city of Antalya. The Syrian population, therefore, is much more than the published official figures, Oguz claimed.

“Living without having an identification card (ID) threatens the children’s growth, security, and protection of rights. If we do not reach those families and their children, we will be facing a problem called lost generation [in the future],” Oguz said.

The authorities have to bring the informality under control in all cities, notably in Antalya, and rehabilitate the children and their families, Oguz added.

Turkey’s Health Ministry recorded the number of underage conceptions as 15,216 in 2017. The figure was revealed upon a parliamentary inquiry lodged by lawmaker Ali Seker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

In 2018, another CHP lawmaker Tekin Bingol disclosed in a report regarding child marriage in Turkey that in the last 10 years, a total of 482,908 underage girls were married.

“In Turkey, 26 percent of females were married before the age of 18. Ten percent of them gave birth before the age of 18. Some 142,298 underage mothers were recorded in the last six years. Most of these children were married in religious ceremonies. A total of 440,000 underage girls have given birth since 2002. The number of women under 15 who gave birth after being exposed to sexual abuse was recorded as 15,937,” Bingol said in his report.

Syrian refugees started to arrive in Turkey in 2011 when a civil war broke out in their country between the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and anti-government rebels.

As of June, the number of Syrians who have sought protection in Turkey stood at 3,657, 000 according to an official figure revealed by the Immigration and Integration Sub-committee of Human Rights Commission in the Turkish Parliament.

Turkish authorities have recently increased raids as part of a new policy against refugees, mostly Syrians, in the country’s largest city and business center Istanbul, in an attempt to deport undocumented refugees.

In June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he believed the number of Syrians returning to their homeland would reach one million once a safe zone is established in northeast Syria along the shared border.

More Syrians face deportation as Turkey cracks down on migrants

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