Children are susceptible to sexual assault in Turkey’s earthquake zone
MELIHA YILDIZ- Families who have sought shelter in tents in the earthquake-hit region of Turkey and who have no security are losing sleep over concerns that their children might be kidnapped.
Children living in the tent cities formed after such disasters become vulnerable to sexual assault by both people they know and do not know. In the tent cities established following the disaster, vulnerability to sexual violence increases due to the fact that the tents children live in are very crowded and everyone uses the same spaces.
Children are also exposed to sexual abuse outside the tents or other shelters they live in.
Many children, especially in the refugee camps recently established in Turkey, have been subjected to sexual abuse by camp officials.
That Erdal E., a janitor at the AFAD-affiliated camp established in the Nizip district of Gaziantep in 2016, sexually assaulted and abused 30 Syrian children was brought to the agenda of the parliament. It was uncovered that Erdal E. abused children aged between 8 and 12 in exchange for 1.5 to 2 Turkish Liras.
In another case, M.C. who was employed as a janitor in the Provincial Directorate of Environment and Urbanization after the 2011 Van Earthquake sexually abused H.A. who had been playing on the street, by taking him to the tent set up after the earthquake in the garden of the Provincial Directorate on the pretext of giving food.
Another reason children are exposed to sexual abuse in the shelters established in the aftermath of disasters is the forced prostitution of women and girls by camp officials in order to meet their basic needs.
According to Mesopotamia News Agency, refugee women and girls staying in the Telhamut tent city of the Ceylanpinar District Governorate were forced into prostitution by male camp workers in exchange for basic necessities, such as a pack of milk or food.
Children are at a disadvantage
After the August 17 Earthquake, women and girls were again subjected to sexual violence and abuse by camp officials and soldiers in order to meet their basic needs. Another dimension of sexual abuse of girls after disasters is child marriage. There is an increase in the marriage of underage girls in the regions where disaster victims live. In the Turkish provinces where there are refugee camps, the exploitation of girls through underage marriage is viewed by the culture as a favor or kindness done for that girl.
Children in disaster areas are among the most disadvantaged groups. After the earthquake, we saw very clearly that even the safety of our children was not ensured, and that the very people who are responsible for ensuring the safety of our children are, in reality, a threat to our children. As such, the concern for ensuring the safety of children is left to families and non-governmental organizations which consider the child's best interests.
Mor Yerleske (The Purple Compound), which was established after the earthquake to meet the needs of women and children, is a good example of this. We can ensure the safety of our children by strengthening and multiplying such civil society organizations.
*Meliha Yildiz: She was born in 1975 in a negligent home where sexual abuse, among other things, was experienced. At the age of forty-four, she recounted her sexual abuse in a video-interview, which marked the beginning of her journey from victimhood to activism. In 2021, she wrote “Sacred Isolation,” the first book in Turkey in which domestic sexual abuse is narrated from the perspective of the "victim.” She continues to share her work on child sexual abuse at https://melihayildiz.org/.