Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable Children in Turkey

Regina De Dominicis
UNICEF Turkey Representative

Turkey continues to host the largest refugee population in the world. In 2020, the number of refugees and migrants in Turkey was around 4 million, almost half of whom are children. The Government of Turkey has shouldered the bulk of the financial costs related to the refugee response in Turkey. As the displacement situation remains protracted, Turkey has called for increased and sustained international responsibility in sharing how to address the needs of refugees and migrants as well as host communities.

In 2020, the Government of Turkey rapidly mobilized a national response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had profound and far-reaching socio-economic consequences on already vulnerable groups, especially women and children. The consequences of the pandemic have been felt across all communities and sectors, affecting women and children disproportionately. Refugees and migrants as well as other vulnerable groups in Turkey have been affected by significant loss of livelihood and income, causing many households to struggle to meet the costs of their basic needs.

People with specific needs, particularly women and children, continue to require targeted support through sustained investment in systems providing protection response, social assistance, and psycho-social support. The reduction in service capacities and outreach due to COVID-19 has made it harder for service providers to identify and protect vulnerable individuals. Investing further in robust referral mechanisms and in services for responding to the specific needs of women and children has maintained its strategic importance in the coming period. The COVID-19 pandemic also has had a marked effect on school enrollment, attendance, and retention, making it harder for children in Turkey to continue their education and affecting the learning of 19 million children from preprimary to upper-secondary ages (48% girls, 52% boys), as well as 7.9 million university learners (52% male and 48% female) including Syrian refugee children enrolled in the public education system and youth in Turkish universities. More than 428,000 school-aged refugee children are still not enrolled and have no access to education opportunities. Unlike in previous years, 2020-2021 data suggests a drop in children’s enrollment rate at the preprimary and primary education levels.

Unenrolled children also include working children, those with disabilities, and those experiencing other protection risks. They are one of the most vulnerable groups in Turkey, facing multiple child-protection risks including psychosocial distress, child labor, child marriage, and other forms of exploitation and abuse the socio-economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, the discontinuation of face-to-face learning, the lack of peer interactions, and a reported increase in domestic violence levels are likely to result in reversed learning gains and loss of learning for vulnerable children, including refugees.

Given the scale and the protracted nature of the refugee crisis in Turkey, and the profound uncertainty around a political settlement and durable peace inside Syria, significant numbers of Syrian children and families are expected will remain in Turkey for years to come and require specific attention. As a result, humanitarian action for children will remain an important cross-section approach for all of UNICEF’s intervention sectors. UNICEF and its partners will seek to accelerate realizing the rights for the most vulnerable children in Turkey by supporting the Government to maintain the significant progress it has already achieved and to close the remaining equity gaps by ensuring that vulnerable children and families benefit from improved child protection and social protection services. UNICEF and its partners will also aim to ensure that young children, especially the most vulnerable, benefit from learning, nurturing, care, and development at home and in their communities and that adolescents and young people are learning, acquiring relevant skills, and participating meaningfully in an environment that is safe and responsive to their needs.

UNICEF and its partners will also seek to further promote social cohesion by building on previous work to increase social capital and positive relationships among communities, caregivers, and young people. Strengthening national systems’ capacity to provide services in a more equitable and inclusive manner will also contribute to advancing a social compact for children involving public authorities at the central and local levels, relevant national institutions, civil society, the private sector, and children and young people in order to improve the monitoring of child rights. 

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