High underage pregnancy rates among refugee children rattle Turkey

Via Heinrich Böll Stiftung Türkei – On January 17, news about a state hospital in one of the largest districts of Istanbul hit the headlines.

It was reported that within a period of five months earlier in 2017, 115 pregnant girls under the age of 18 came to the Kanuni Sultan Süleyman Training and Research Hospital, yet the hospital administration did not report the cases to the police despite the official obligation to do so. A female social worker discovered the cases for the first time, after she came across an undocumented case about a 16 years old girl in July 2017. The girl was neither mentioned in the registration system of the hospital, nor in the documents of the social work unit. Thereupon she decided to search previous cases and looked at the period between January 1-May 9, 2017. She found out that there were 115 undocumented girls all under 18, out of which 38 got pregnant under 15 years. 39 of the girls were of Syrian origin.

According to the Turkish Criminal Code, impregnating a girl under 15 years is -regardless of consent- a punishable act within the context of the articles regulating penalties for the sexual abuse of minors. This is why hospitals are obliged to report such cases to judicial authorities or to the police. The social worker documented the situation and approached the state attorney in October 2017. Following the application, her workplace was changed twice by the hospital. Furthermore, an investigation was started against her, whereas the permission to investigate by the state attorney the cases was rejected by the governor of Istanbul on December 4th, 2017.

Lawyers familiar with the case labeled it a “gross misconduct” on behalf of the hospital. They have pointed to the fact that the list “found” by chance, just because one social worker was attentive and acted responsibly, is probably only the tip of the iceberg. The way authorities attempted to cover the “scandal”, it is argued, is an unfortunate indicator for the magnitude of children’s rights violations in the country, since it also illustrates their complicity with the perpetrators. On the other hand, a psychologist of the hospital with which the social worker documented the cases together, argued in an interview that there was no evil purpose behind the inaction of the hospital. According to her the cases went unregistered first, due to a lack of information and second, due to the fact that child abuse and child pregnancy cases have become something that often happens. The hospital in question is in an area highly populated by Syrian refugees and most of the girls with whom she was able to talk said that the perpetrator was a relative. With many of the girls she said, she could not even establish contact, due to language barriers, making it likely that the problem might be even bigger, than reported so far.