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'Access of child agricultural laborers to education must be ensured by gov't'.

ANKARA (CyHAN)- A policy paper prepared by the Development Workshop to explore the different dimensions of seasonal agricultural work, and to present recommendations for measures to reduce its negative impact on children, has urged the government to take steps to ensure child laborers are able to access education.

The agriculture sector constitutes an important part of employment in Turkey. According to the policy paper prepared by the Development Workshop -- a non-profit cooperative established in 2004 to focus on social issues, including poverty and child rights -- approximately a quarter of all employment in Turkey is in agriculture, with a ratio of 48 percent among working women and 41 percent among working children. Due to the nature of agricultural activity, employment in this sector fluctuates with the seasons, and the seasonal increase in labor demand is met by a migratory or local labor force. According to official estimates, close to 300,000 people leave their areas of residence and migrate to other regions to work in seasonal agriculture during certain periods of the year. Accordingly, the number of children who are affected, either directly or indirectly, by seasonal agricultural work could be as high as the hundreds of thousands.

A great number of children seasonally migrate to agricultural provinces with their families each year. These child laborers are negatively affected by the seasonal migrations, the policy paper states. When children are paid workers in seasonal agricultural work, or when they seasonally migrate with their families, they face major and immediate risks to their education, social development and overall health. These children may end up dropping out of school, are at risk of being injured in accidents and even of losing their lives.

The unfavorable conditions to which these children are exposed, especially with respect to their health and education, can lead to irreversible damage in the long term. Dropping out of education may result in the continuation of poverty and deprivation; while poor housing and working conditions can lead to chronic health problems. Similarly, working as an agricultural laborer or participating in seasonal agricultural migration increases the child's vulnerability to violence, neglect, abuse and social exclusion, and this in turn may adversely affect their emotional and social development.

The education of children who are forced to migrate with the seasons is deeply affected. They may be prevented from attending school regularly, and long periods of absenteeism may lead to the child dropping out of education entirely. The conditions that the children are exposed to during seasonal agricultural migration can sometimes continue to affect the physical health of the child even after the migration period, which may also prevent the child from participating effectively in learning processes and increase their risk of dropping out. Exposure to agricultural chemicals as well as high levels of stress experienced during seasonal agricultural migration pose particular risks to the child's nervous system, and hence their cognitive development, again having an impact on a child's ability to benefit from educational processes.

A baseline study conducted among seasonal workers by the Development Workshop, with the participation of 354 children and 175 parents, revealed that 342 of the children -- corresponding to 97 percent -- were enrolled in school, while 3 percent of them were not. However, of the children, 94 percent did not regularly attend school in the 2010-2011 school year, with on average of 58.6 absent days each.

When these children were asked about their reasons for not attending school, 82.8 percent of them pointed to "seasonal agricultural labor" as their major reason. The other reasons included lack of permission from the family, the need to care for siblings, health reasons, poor performance at school and financial difficulties. The study, titled "Baseline Study Concerning the 6-14 Age Group Affected by Seasonal Agricultural Migration," indicates that while children are absent from school during the period of seasonal agricultural migration, the majority resume their schooling upon their return.

Regarding the perception of education among the children, it was found that only 3.5 percent of respondents stated that they disliked school, with the remaining 96.5 percent expressing positive views.

The Development Workshop gives a number of recommendations for the government to prevent dropping out or habitual absenteeism from schools due to seasonal agricultural migration.

The policy paper refers to a circular of the Ministry of Education's Directorate General of Basic Education titled "Education of the Children of Seasonal Migratory Agricultural Workers," dated April 20, 2011. Stating that this circular constitutes an important starting point with respect to possible social and economic measures for children's access to education, the policy paper suggests the government expand the scope of this circular to ensure that all children attend preschool and 12 years of mandatory education.

The circular establishes that a child should be able to continue his or her education either through a regional boarding school or through a system of bus travel and mobile teachers in the region to which the child has migrated with their family.

Other recommendations made by the policy paper are to allocate adequate financial resources to affected schools and to the provincial offices of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Family and Social Policy for the implementation of the measures outlined in the circular; to ensure that the human resources in the social services and education sectors, primarily teachers, are sufficiently competent, qualified and willing, and to this end to increase the number and improve the quality of human resources in the education and social services sectors in all affected provinces, and to ensure that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security work together and use the existing e-school system to monitor the level of the individual child systematically.

Elaborating on the policy paper, Development Workshop Executive Manager Ertan Karabyyyk told Sunday's Zaman that they place great importance on cooperation and coordination between ministries to reduce the negative impacts of seasonal agricultural work on children. Stating that they mostly address the government with the recommendations included in the policy paper, Karabyyyk further said that apart from general measures, some local measures should also be taken by local authorities in each province -- primarily in provinces such as E[currency]anlyurfa, Ordu and Adana, places to which seasonal agricultural workers generally migrate.

The policy paper also includes some recommendations to improve the living conditions of agricultural workers. The policy paper states that effective sanctions need to be introduced for agricultural intermediaries with respect to their responsibilities towards working conditions. Clear prohibitions should be introduced in labor regulations, especially those concerning child labor in heavy and hazardous work, to ensure that children are not a part of the seasonal agricultural workforce.

"To plan the measures needed to improve the working, travel and living conditions of the seasonal agricultural workforce and to provide social assistance, the government should enhance the qualitative and quantitative capacity of the implementing provincial offices, allocate sufficient resources from the general budget for these purposes and also evaluate the work done systematically in terms of coverage and impact," the policy paper states.

The Development Workshop urges the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Family and Social Policy to take the necessary measures to prevent any detrimental effects of seasonal agricultural migration on the physical, cognitive and emotional development of young children who are in the most crucial phase of their growth in the policy paper. It recommends that priority should be given to institution, family and community-based child development programs in the places where migratory agricultural workers are accommodated while childcare services should be provided free of charge to the children of both migratory and local agricultural workers during their parents' working hours.

The baseline study by the Development Workshop also found that 30.8 percent of seasonal child migratory workers live in nylon or reed tents while 47.2 percent of them live in canvas or tarpaulin tents. The study also revealed that an average of eight people lived in a single room in their living quarters. "This figure is an indicator of poverty. This situation adversely affects all the laborers, especially the children," the researchers commented in the study paper. The study also stated that 18.9 percent of the living areas of seasonal agricultural workers do not have any sewage facilities. According to the study, the least problematic province was Ordu, with 40 percent of the child respondents stating that there was a sewage system in their living areas, while the most problematic province was Yozgat: All of the child respondents stated that their living quarters did not have any sewage system at all.

Of the participants surveyed, 23.9 percent said they were only able to take a shower once every three days; 41.5 percent said they could only shower once a week; 5.7 percent said fortnightly; 0.6 percent said every three weeks and 2.8 percent said once a month. Only 25.6 percent of children showered every day or every two days; that is, three out of every four children were only able to take a shower once every three days or more.

Of the children who participated in the study, 52.2 percent stated that they frequently caught colds; 59.9 percent of them had recurring headaches; 44.5 percent had experienced dizziness; 48.7 percent had backache, 19.7 percent had contracted malaria and 18.5 percent had dysentery.

Of the children in the seasonal agricultural migration participating in the research, 35.6 percent were vaccinated regularly while 54 percent had not had their regular vaccinations.

The study also revealed that 76.6 percent of child agricultural laborers work in the fields, which is the most common type of work done by children. Another striking finding in the study is that tasks carried out in the living quarters of migratory workers such as carrying water (68.4 percent), looking after siblings (63.7 percent), looking after belongings (63.7 percent), dishwashing (45.6 percent), preparing meals (30 percent) and cleaning chores (49.1 percent) were done by girls. The average working hours for children participating in the seasonal migratory labor was 10.10 hours a day, the study also revealed, with the average number of days worked per week by children being 6.17 days.

This letter was written by a seasonal agricultural child worker whose name has been withheld.

I am a child who works as a seasonal agricultural laborer. I cannot go to school for three to four months in a year. I am a child who migrates to where work can be found, traveling and living in unhealthy and unsafe conditions. I started working at the age of 5. My first job was carrying water to the field. I also looked after my siblings in our tent. When my hands were big enough, I started picking cotton. I learned how to hoe and harvest fruits and vegetables. The tomato which you eat, the carrots and potatoesC* Your clothingC* These are all part of my unseen labor. Perhaps you read my name in the newspaper when a truck which takes us to the fields has an accident. Maybe you say "How sadC*" and then turn the page. Do you ever wonder if a child was involved in making the clothes you buy or if their labor was properly compensated or if the laborers received their rights? Where do they live and how much do they earn?

Each year, after April 23 National Children's Day celebrations, I stop going to school and we start our migration. If you knew that the fruits you ate were picked by these tiny calloused hands, would you still buy them? What do you really know about the problems of seasonal and migratory agricultural labor which has lasted generations? We want to go to school and live in dignified conditions just like other children. But what can we do? (Cihan/Sundays Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Nov 4, 2012
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