Hacı Bişkin / DUVAR 

Social services experts and politicians agree that incarcerated minors in Turkey are in an increasingly vulnerable position during the COVID-19 outbreak and that government should make an organized effort to protect children in prisons. 

Social services expert Nihat Tarımeri noted that the Justice Ministry, Family, Labor and Social Services Ministry, bar associations, and human rights organizations should come together on the issue of incarcerated minors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[Incarcerated] children should be taken to safer locations after 14 days of quarantine,” Tarımeri said. 

The latest recorded number of incarcerated minors was 2,800 children between the ages of 12 and 17 in 2017, according to the Justice Ministry. There were also 780 children staying with their mothers in prison. 

“It’s the ministries’ and bar associations’ duty to let these kids know what’s happening outside the prison and to help them. Any negative outcome will be their responsibility.”

‘We can’t keep kids in there’

Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu noted that the state of children’s prisons was already dire before the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Gergerlioğlu noted that the children’s prison in Diyarbakir had no ventilation or exercise for the inmates.

“Just making a prison and stuffing kids in there isn’t a solution,” Gergerlioğlu said. “Kids need therapists and counselors.”

Children’s prisons have been closed to visitations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Gergerlioğlu hasn’t been receiving written communications from any children in prison, he said.

“We don’t know how they’re doing. I have no doubt that they’re worse off than before. Hygiene, well-being and morale-wise…”

Gergerlioğlu said that children’s prisons haven’t been proven to have a correctional effect anyway, and that children should be moved out of the facilities. 

“We can’t keep these kids in there,” Gergerlioğlu said.

‘They need widespread examinations’

Doğan Polat of the Human Rights Association, a Turkish human rights NGO, noted that the authorities need to be more transparent with data regarding incarnated minors in Turkey.

“Kids need to be released immediately with the necessary precautions. Depriving a child of their freedom is unimaginable within the Child Protection Law,” Polat said. 

If kids can’t be released, Polat added, they need to be given health examinations and consultations with therapists to minimize trauma related to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Gamze Akkuş İlgezdi suggested that younger incarcerated children be moved to open prisons during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The Justice Ministry postponed all visitations until May 15. All these health precautions have a negative impact on kids who are left alone with correctional officers all day.”

Ilgezdi urged the government to provide psychological counseling to incarcerated minors, to remove limitations on phone calls and to improve food quality and hygiene in the facilities.