Photos by Lefteris Pitarakis & Text by Berza Simsek
On any given summer day, the hot sun glares down on the streets of Gaziantep, a Turkish city on the border with Syria. Inside stifling garment and shoe workshops, Syrian refugee children are hard at work, sewing machines buzzing in the background.
They should be at school. Instead, they are making trousers and footwear for other children.
Ahmad Abo Baker, 11, from Aleppo is one of them. He works 12 hours a day, six days a week for about $35. It is a repetitive routine devoid of any play time with friends. The boy rises at 7, goes straight to work and doesn’t stop until sundown, except for a brief lunch break.
After work, he says, “I go back home, have dinner, talk with my family and then go to sleep.”
His father, Yahya Abo Baker, who works with him, wishes his son was at school rather than at work.
“We don’t have any other choice,” he explains. They need the dual income to be able to pay the rent of a flat shared with strangers and send money to the rest of the family who stayed in Syria.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, more than half of Turkey’s 2.7 million Syrian refugees are children. Only 325,000 are enrolled in school. About half a million school-age children have no access to education.
There is no official figure on how many Syrian children work in Turkey, but human rights organizations say those who do not attend school have become part of an informal economy, working for a pittance in a range of sectors including agriculture and textiles.
The International Labor Organization has designated June 12 as World Day Against Child Labor. Turkey is a signatory of the ILO’s Minimum Age Convention, which sets the legal age for work at 15.
Here is a gallery of photos by Lefteris Pitarakis, chief photographer in Turkey for The Associated Press.
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