Juvenile Detention Guards Sexually Abusing Minority Children in Turkey

A Turkish investigation found that Kurdish children, mostly arrested for illegal assembly or throwing stones, often face abuse in the country's youth prisons.

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Prisoners lean on a fence surrounding the Pagani detention center / Reuters

An unofficial Turkish parliamentary investigation into physical and sexual abuse of Kurdish children in juvenile detention centers is raising rule-of-law concerns in Turkey.

The unofficial probe, conducted by members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Kemalist Republican People's Party, found that 25 out of 215 inmates sentenced recently under anti-terror laws to the Pozanti Juvenile Detention Center in the Mediterranean city of Adana reported rape and regular beatings at the hands of prison guards and other inmates. The youngest such victim was 12 years old.

Nearly all the allegedly abused children were detained for either illegal assembly or throwing stones, according to BDP MP Ertuğral Kürkçü, a member of the investigative team that presented its findings earlier this month. "They [security forces] deliver them to the prison and they have code words when they hand them over. They say, 'This is a relative; treat him nicely,' and this means, 'Rape him.' We heard many reports of children being raped," Kürkçü recounted to EurasiaNet.org.

The Human Rights Association, a Turkish watchdog group, said it had informed the Ministry of Justice about the situation at Pozanti seven months ago. Kürkçü claims that local officials have been aware of abuse allegations for more than a year.

The revelations about the Pozanti facility is a source of concern for hundreds of people, including children, who were detained during the past week amid violent clashes with police over the early start of celebrations of the Kurdish New Year, or Newruz, on March 21. Authorities tend to see unauthorized gatherings as potential attempts to foment unrest.

The public outcry over the abuse issue prompted officials to temporarily close the Pozanti facility and transfer its 215 inmates to Ankara's Sincan Prison. A Justice Ministry report recommended the prosecution of four current and previous directors and deputy directors at Pozanti, as well as 18 inmates. Charges were not specified.

"Every single allegation will be investigated. We will not tolerate the slightest negligence or abuse of power. We will resort to other measures if necessary," said Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin at a March 4 press conference.

Ergin has promised that all reported cases of abuse are being thoroughly investigated.

The scandal came to light after an interview earlier this month appear in the Taraf newspaper with a former Pozanti prisoner. The prisoner, identified only as "FG," claimed that he had been "terribly beaten" by prison guards when he first arrived, and subsequently raped by an older boy prisoner.

"Several other boys were raped, too. One tried to commit suicide," he alleged. "Every day I had the fear of rape and beatings by the guards."

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Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.

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