Scathing Report Turkish Kids 'Put in State Care Illegally'
Politicians in Ankara have accused several European countries -- including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands -- of illegally taking children of Turkish origin from their families and putting them into foster care. The children are being alienated from Turkish culture, the report claims.
Turkish lawmakers are making their displeasure known in unusually strong terms: "Thousands of Turkish children" living in several European countries have been illegally removed from their families, according to a report by the Turkish Parliament's Human Rights Inquiry Committee (IHIK). Around 5,000 children and young people throughout Europe have supposedly been affected.
The report attacks Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in particular, according to an article in the English-language Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman. The committee members also write that judges in family courts are regularly attaching greater significance to the allegations of youth services than to what the parents have to say. It is becoming apparent, they state, that judges usually decide against the parents. The principle that every action taken must be for the sake of the children is being "interpreted arbitrarily."
The report also points out that some parents are "uneducated" or cannot speak the language of the country where they live, and so are unable to defend their rights and oppose the decision to take away their children. They would neither turn to lawyers with Turkish roots nor make use of help from Turkish consulates. Instead, they would simply cease all communication with the youth welfare offices.
The committee ordered an investigation in June in response to complaints originating from three countries. It subsequently found that most instances of children of Turkish nationals being taken into care have been over alleged abuse, financial problems "or other false allegations." That in turn has led to the "break up of families" and to an "assimilation of the children into European culture" and away from their own traditions. In many cases, the children have lost contact with their families. All in all, the report claims, they have been "alienated" from Turkish culture.
Children 'Forced' Into Different Lifestyle
The chairman of the commission, Ayhan Sefer Üstün of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK), voiced criticism in the spring over three similar cases in Belgium. The Belgian authorities had housed children from families of Turkish origin with homosexual couples. For Üstün, this was a clear violation of the children's human rights, because the lifestyle and beliefs of homosexual couples were not compatible with those of Turkish families. The children, he said, were being "forced" into an alternative lifestyle.
In general, the report determined that not enough consideration had been given to the cultural and religious values of the affected families. "Although close relatives stand ready to care for the children, they are not being taken into consideration," it said. In problem cases, children should be put with relatives or at least "families with a similar cultural background," where they would have the ability to maintain their native language.
The criticism echoes the aggressive tone that has long been used by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is reminiscent of his speech in Germany nearly three years ago when he told his compatriots "yes, integrate yourselves into German society but don't assimilate yourselves" and demanded that Turkish, not German, should be the first language of the children of Turkish parents. "You are my fellow citizens," he told them.
But observers also detect some wounded pride behind the critical report, -- perhaps due to the fact that negotiations around Turkey's ascension to the European Union have stagnated. The EU progress report presented on Wednesday did stress that talks should continue, but it also criticized the crackdown by the Turkish police against anti-government protesters.
The criticism of the treatment of Turkish children marks another low point in relations between the EU and Turkey. Erdogan's deputy, Bekir Bozdag, recently declared that Turkey would set "all diplomatic wheels in motion" to remove the children in question from state custody in foreign countries and return them to their families. Bozdag again cited the reason that most children's homes and foster parents do not share the same values as Turkish families.
Strict Legal Requirements
Following an inquiry from SPIEGEL ONLINE, the German ministry responsible for child protection said that there were no statistics on how many young people with Turkish citizenship are taken into state custody in Germany each year -- the figures merely distinguish between German and non-German citizens. In 2011 a total of 38,456 children and young people were taken into care, of whom 5,627 did not hold German citizenship.
The placement of children in homes or with foster families is the responsibility of Germany's federal states and is subject to strict legal requirements. In line with these regulations, Germany's youth welfare offices are entitled and obligated to take a child or young person into custody in the following situations:
If the minor requests to be taken into custody
If the child is in imminent danger and the adults with custody do not object
If there is a family court ruling to that effect.
In urgent cases, children may be taken into custody without a court ruling. Observations by teachers, doctors and neighbors often prompt the youth welfare offices to intervene. According to the report, Turkish families criticize the fact that their children are often mistakenly suspected of being mistreated, just because they dress differently to non-Turkish children.
German social welfare legislation stipulates that in cases of abuse and child endangerment, they should be placed "with a suitable person" or "in a suitable institution." But Germany and Turkey are still a long way off from agreeing on what "suitable" actually means.