A child worker was killed in an accident in a private mine in the Kilimli region of the province of the northern province of Zonguldak. Emrah Eserli was 17 years old when he died, according to local newspaper "Degisim Medya".
Cetin Yilmaz, a member of the Karadeniz Eregli branch of the Human Rights Association (KDZEREGLI IHD), who answered Bianet's questions, said that underage mineworkers are a chronic problem in coal rich Zonguldak area. Osman Sav, the head of the Zonguldak Journalists' Association, complains of the difficulties and obstacles that journalists encounter when reporting on the issue of child labour.
According to lawyer Serife Ciplak from the Manisa Bar Association, the law forbids children under the age of 18 to be employed to do heavy labour. "A multi-dimensional effort is needed," to solve the problem, said expert Tonguc Coban of the Confederation of the Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DISK).
Coban: "Employing children is a crime against humanity"
"The current laws in Turkey forbid employing children for heavy work under the age of 18," said Coban. He argued that the "gray" or informal economy, which makes up half of the Turkish economy, causes child labour to become more widespread.
Coban stated that families justify sending their children to work in mines because of poverty. "This is an unacceptable excuse," he said.
"What the state should do at this point is to build the economic capacity of the families up to a standard level," added Coban. "More importantly, the eight years of compulsory education should really be 'free'."
Solution: "Free education, direct employment and supervision"
According to Coban, the workers' unions in the mining sector should also be held responsible for the exploitation of child labour.
"Unregistered or private mine workers should join unions so that they become aware of their rights, and the unions should not overlook child labour," said Coban. "To prevent child labour, the state in Turkey should provide all kinds of education facilities, ensure fair employment and supervise."
Yilmaz: "Eser's death is an evidence of the reality"
"Everybody knows that child labourers work at the mines in Zonguldak," Cetin Yilmaz from IHD told bianet. "The death of 17-year-old Emrah Eserli is an evidence of the reality." Yilmaz added that Karadeniz Eregli IHD is making an effort to prevent children from working at the mines. He said they brought the issue to the public agenda on "World Children's Rights Day" on November 20, 2005, in a press statement.
How do the products of child labour become legalized?
Karadeniz Eregli IHD argues that one reason for this problem is privatizations in the coal mining industry. Another is the scaling down of the Turkish Stone Coal Institution (TTK).
* Child labourers work in private and/or unregistered mines in Zonguldak, which is becoming poorer and poorer.
* Families make their children work in unregistered pits that they open as subcontractors under their own names in the mine fields.
* The contraband coal produced by these families is cleared by owners of private mine pits.
Done before the eyes of the families
Yilmaz stated that child labour in Zonguldak occuers before the eyes and under the supervision of the families there. That is why those who exploit children can avoid official intervention.
"By opening up unregistered mine pits in 'mountainous' regions, they are able to both camouflage them, and cover up the fact that they use child labour," said Yilmaz.
Sav: "Journalists are being prevented"
"The unregistered child labour at mines in Zonguldak is an ongoing problem," said Osman Sav, head of the Zonguldak Journalists' Association. "We, as journalists have reported on this issue, and proved it with photographs. We showed this reality to the public, but most of the time we were prevented. The evidence was used against us."
Sav said that the law requires the company or institution to report and document death or accident, which occurs in the mine within 48 hours. He said that Emrah Eserli's death was reported only after 4 days. Sav argues that it is very difficult to fight the power of those who use child labour, but adds that people should go on spending efforts.
Ciplak: "It is forbidden to employ children under the age of 18"
"The current legal regulations in Turkey state that it is dangerous to employ workers under the age of 20, and banned to employ workers under the age of 18" for heavy labour, said lawyer Serife Ciplak. She said that mine labour should be considered 'heavy labour,' as "there is a risk of death. The intensive chemical operations may cause many serious illnesses including lung and skin cancer."
"The law does not allow any child labour in a private or public mine field," said Ciplak. "This requires penalties. The mine licenses of those employing children may be taken away, or the mine field may be closed down." She added that the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry can revoke the decision by courts to close down a mine field. "Not a single mine field has been closed down in Turkey up to this day," she said. (EO/EK/EA/YE)
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