Turkish Education Ministry confesses negligence in horrific child abuse case

Scandals have been continuing in the child abuse case that stunned Turkey at the end of 2022 in which one of the leaders of the Islamist İsmailağa Community, Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel, had “married” her daughter at the age of six. It has turned out that the Education Ministry did not detect the fact that H.K.G. was not sent to school at the age of 6.

Duvar English

The research commission, established in the Turkish Parliament to combat sexual abuse, listened to the Education Ministry bureaucrats on the horrific child abuse case initially brought to the public’s attention by journalist Timur Soykan on Dec. 3 with a series of reportings.

H.K.G., who is the daughter of Yusuf Ziya Gümüşel, the founder of the Hiranur Foundation affiliated with the İsmailağa Community, filed a criminal complaint about her parents.

Now 24 and divorced, the woman said that her father, Yusuf Ziya Gümüşsel, and her mother, Fatıma Gümüşel, had “married” her at the age of six with Kadir İstekli, one of the followers of İsmailağa Community. She said that she had been sexually abused throughout her childhood.

The research commission listened to the Education Ministry General Director of Special Education and Guidance Services Cemal Özdemir, the General Director of Secondary Education Halil İbrahim Topçu, the General Director of Primary Education Tuncay Morkoç, the Chairman of the Inspection Board Metin Çakır, and the Deputy Director General of Security of the Ministry of Interior Erhan Gülveren, according to reporting by online news outlet T24.

Negligence by Education Ministry

Why H.K.G. did not go to school in 2004 when she was six years old also caused controversy, and questions related to negligence have been raised to the Education Ministry. All children in Turkey start their primary education at the age of 6, and they must attend school regularly. Parents who do not register their children in schools are fined.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Mersin Deputy Fatma Kurtulan asked whether the status of H.K.G. was followed by the ministry’s student tracking system or not. She later posed the question, “If it is realized that she did not continue education, has any action been taken against the principals in schools where H.K.G. did not attend?"

Tuncay Morkoç, Education Ministry General Manager of Primary Education, replied in the following way: "The use of the Turkish ID numbering system started in 2006. The e-school system was developed in the 2007-2008 academic year. At the moment, when we press a button, all children are automatically included in the school system. It is no longer possible for a child to be excluded from our follow-up. On the other hand, H.K.G. is a child who must have been registered in 2003 or 2004."

After this answer, Cengiz Aydoğdu, Chairman of the Commission and Justice and Development Party (AKP) Aksaray Deputy, asked: "Our child was not followed up, was she?" General Manager Morkoç sufficed by saying, "Of course. Of course, this would not be a reason, but she was not detected."

"First civil chiefs, second headmen, third municipal police, school principals and inspectors are legally bound to detect those who do not attend schools.”

Incident registered as ‘negligence’ in commission’s reports

When HDP Deputy Kurtulan inquired about the school management’s negligence with regards to the case, Morkoç admitted that the school’s principal at the time “did not know about the issue.”  

Later, opposition representatives asked, "Why wasn't a retrospective scan done after the system was introduced in 2007?" Morkoç replied, "You are right; it was not mandatory at that time." Commission chair and AKP Deputy Aydoğdu concluded, "It is a good point; the issue was neglected."

Collecting systematic data on child abuse in schools was also mentioned in the commission meeting by the chair and other deputies. Education Ministry General Director of Special Education and Guidance Services Cemal Özdemir replied that there is an ongoing project on data collection, and it will be shared with the commission.

Far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Halil Öztürk tried to downgrade the importance of the issue and justify sexual abuse by saying it “is a phenomenon that has existed since the beginning of humanity.”

He went further by arguing that “sexual abuse already exists everywhere,” and any attempts to make sure that such cases do not happen completely are “irrational.”

“From the world's most developed America and Europe to Angola or Mozambique, sexual abuse already exists everywhere. We cannot find a solution to the sexual abuse issues by assigning a gendarmerie officer for everyone. It is also irrational that the issue of abuse will be resolved at a 100 percent level,” he said.