Turkey child abuse reports rise as coronavirus lockdown keeps kids trapped indoors

Turkey child abuse reports rise as coronavirus lockdown keeps kids trapped indoors
Turkey is witnessing a sharp rise in both child abuse and domestic violence, as families remain confined at home due to the pandemic.
3 min read
15 April, 2020
Reports of child abuse to one NGO have more than doubled [Anadolu]
Reports of child abuse are on the rise in Turkey amid a nationwide shutdown of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 20 million children are stuck at home in Turkey after schools shuttered their doors in mid-March, inadvertently sparking an unprecedented rise in reports of abuse as parents and care-givers observe signs of non-domestic abuse, Al-Monitor reported.

A prominent advocate for child abuse victims brought the topic to attention earlier this month.

"Mothers are taking notice of their children at home. We are receiving too many child abuse complaints. My heart is broken, I feel sad, we will do everything we can to help them," Saadet Ozkan Efe wrote on Twitter.

The International Association for Combatting Child Abuse (UCIM), based in Turkey's southern Mersin province, has received double the amount of normal complaints since schools closed, Efe told Al-Monitor.

Before the coronavirus crisis, UCIM received around four reports a day. Now it is receiving between nine and 10 a day, she said.

"Children, feeling safe at home, tell their parents about the abuse," she said. "Sometimes the abuser is an uncle or a neighbour. In very few cases it is fathers. Generally, mothers take action when they find out. Some 99 percent of reporters are mothers."

No official statistics on child abuse in Turkey have been available since 2017 but Efe said the apparent rise in reports can partly be explained by the fact children are now more confident in reporting abuse, particularly due to increased access to digital educational materials.

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However, education from family members is at least equally important.

Children must be given at least a private space of their own to sleep in and be instilled with notions of privacy, a counsellor with UCIM said.

Maintaining personal boundaries with children can be difficult in low-income families, however, where multiple family members usually live and sleep together in small spaces. Traditions such as kissing children on the lips can disrupt perceptions of private space, counsellor Filiz Budak said.

"You have to show kids you will love them even if they make a mistake or something bad happens," she told Al-Monitor, advising parents to look out for social withdrawal, poor grades and eating disorders as warning signs of abuse.

"Children should be taught that strangers can't touch them and who to ask for help if someone tries that. They should be told they shouldn't keep bad things secret," Budak explained.

Global fears over rise in domestic violence incidents

Women's rights campaigners in Turkey have also warned of an increase in reports to non-governmental organisations over domestic abuse

Police data from Istanbul, the centre of the nation's coronavirus outbreak, showed that while crime decreased overall last month, domestic violence incidents increased by more than a third, as women are confined to their homes, sometimes with abusive partners.

"During the pandemic, incidents of physical violence reported to the Federation of Women's Associations of Turkey increased by 80 percent, psychological violence increased by 93 percent, requests of shelter increased by 78 percent," an opposition MP told parliament last week.

While Ankara has not imposed a full nationwide lockdown, the government has encouraged citizens to stay at home. Authorities have also made use of weekend curfews and small-scale quarantines.

A majority of femicides, or cases where women are killed by men, involve violence at home.

At least 21 women were killed by men between 11 March, when Ankara reported its first coronavirus case, and the end of March, according to We Will Stop Femicide.

This mirrors an unfortunate pattern being witnessed in countries elsewhere in the region and across the world. China, Spain, Germany, France, Canada and Australia have all seen increased reporting of domestic violence incidents.

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