Europe

Made in Turkey, stitched by Syrian children

  • 9 February 2016
  • From the section Europe
Syrian children Abdurrahman, 15, and Mohammed, 13, at work in an Istanbul garment factory
Image caption Abdurrahman, 15, and Mohammed, 13, say they need to earn money to support their families

Bathed in a blue fluorescent light, industrial sewing machines clatter away while Turkish music plays and the heat from a stove fills the room. This is a sweatshop in Istanbul's textile manufacturing hub.

It is not a place for children, but two Syrian boys are working here for at least eight hours a day. One of them is 15, the other 13.

"I have been working in Turkey for two years," says Abdurrahman, 15.

"We don't have enough money. I have to pay the rent."

Their rent is nearly $250 (£170) per month.

When I ask about his days in Syria, his school and his life then, he says: "Lessons were hard, but not as much as working. I am getting tired every day."

Abdurrahman stares at me with his large brown eyes and tells me that he misses playing hide and seek with his friends.

Image caption Child labour is illegal in Turkey but the problem persists

The other Syrian boy who works here is Mohammed. He is 13 and works to support his family too. He says he misses drawing pictures with colouring pens.

Abdurrahman and Mohammed are only two of the unregistered and illegal workers in the second biggest industry in Turkey, a country that has become a leading supplier of garments to Europe after China and Bangladesh.

The overall number of Syrian children working illegally is unclear. However, Turkey did not have a good record on child labour even before nearly 2.5 million Syrian refugees arrived in the country.

According to the latest figures, half a million Turkish children are also working in different sectors, despite the fact that child labour is banned under Turkish law.

The five-year Syrian civil war has created 4.5 million refugees across the region - half of them children in need of food, education and a home.

Image caption The Turkish garment industry says its reputation has been blighted by claims of child labour

Although half of the 600,000 Syrian children in Turkey are enrolled in schools, many are obliged to earn money for their families.

The UN has warned that a whole generation of Syrian children is at risk.

Last month, the Business Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) asked 28 major brands if they were aware of any Syrian children employed by their Turkish suppliers and, if so, their strategies for combating the exploitation of Syrian children and adults.

In their answers to the watchdog, retail chain H&M said out of 210 units it was working with in Turkey, they found Syrian children were working in one unit. The company also said it was co-operating with a non-governmental agency (NGO) in Turkey to ensure that education planning was drawn up and implemented.

The retailer Next also said it had identified that Syrian children had worked for its Turkish suppliers. The company's strategy for tackling the issue was also praised in the report by BHRRC.

On the other hand, representatives of the textile sector in Turkey criticised news agencies and newspapers which had reported the issue, saying that such stories would harm the Turkish economy and discredit Turkish textile manufacturing.

The head of one union said Turkey should tackle child labour and those companies involved should be revealed, but the whole sector should not be defamed.

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