Over 400,000 Syrian children in Turkey out of school
Nov 9, Istanbul: More than 400,000 Syrian refugee children living in Turkey are not attending school, Human Rights Watch said in a report.
While the Turkish government has been generous in its response toward the Syrian refugee crisis, the country has struggled to ensure that Syrian school children have the access to education to which they are entitled under international law.
The 62-page report, “‘When I Picture My Future, I See Nothing’: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey,” documents the major obstacles that prevent Syrian refugee children from getting formal education in Turkey, which is hosting more than two million refugees from the Syrian conflict that began in 2011. The government adopted an important policy in September, 2014 that formally grants Syrian children access to public schools, but key obstacles including a language barrier, social integration issues, economic hardship, and lack of information about the policy, remain one year later.
The Turkish government and international partners need to work quickly to make sure that Syrian children in Turkey can go to school, Human Rights Watch said. Securing these children’s education will reduce the risks of early marriage and military recruitment of children by armed groups, stabilize their economic future by increasing their earning potential, and ensure that today’s young Syrians will be better equipped to confront uncertain futures.
Of the Syrian refugees living in Turkey, 708,000 are school-age children. In 2014-2015, just over 212,000 were enrolled in formal education at the primary and secondary levels, based on Ministry of National Education data. While the enrollment rate inside refugee camps was nearly 90 percent, most refugees live outside camps, where only 25 percent of school-age children were enrolled in school. Overall, more than two-thirds of Syrian children are receiving no formal education in Turkey.
In June 2015, HRW interviewed 136 Syrian refugee children and relatives living outside camps. Many of these children first faced disruptions to their education in Syria, when their schools were damaged during the conflict or overtaken by armed groups. Some had lost up to four years of schooling and remained unable to attend school in Turkey.
In September 2014, the Ministry of National Education issued a policy that offered all registered Syrian refugees access to the public school system. The ministry also began accrediting Syrian “temporary education centers” – a system of schools operated by charitable organizations and local communities that offer an Arabic-language curriculum.
However, for many Syrian families, practical obstacles remain. Many Syrian children are unable to attend Turkish public schools because of the language barrier and lack of Turkish language support for non-native speakers. Others face bullying and social integration difficulties that lead students to drop out or that discourage them from enrolling. Some Syrian families lack accurate information on enrollment procedures. Human Rights Watch documented some cases of school administrators improperly turning away Syrian families who attempted to enroll their children in local public schools.
Temporary education centers are limited in number and not widely available in all geographic areas hosting Syrian refugees in Turkey, nor do the existing centers have the capacity to serve the large number of Syrian schoolchildren who need education. Many of the centers charge tuition or require families to pay additional transportation fees that put them out of reach of some financially struggling Syrian families.
Economic hardship is a major barrier to education for many Syrian families in Turkey in other ways as well. Syrian refugees are not permitted to work legally in the country. Parents are often unable to provide for their families on the minimal income they make in the informal labor market, and as a result child labor is rampant among the Syrian refugee population.
Prior to the conflict, the primary school enrollment rate in Syria was 99 percent, and lower secondary school enrollment – grades 7 to 9 – was 82 percent. Today, nearly three million Syrian children inside and outside the country are out of school, according to UNICEF estimates – demolishing Syria’s achievement before the war of near universal primary education.
The Oslo Times/HRW