Here in Turkey the school summer holidays run from the middle of June to the middle of September. We do not, however, see much more of our neighbour children at this time than we do for the rest of the year. Firstly, and sadly, a portion of our neighbours’ children are not sent to school. Schooling is supposed to be compulsory but that is very difficult to enforce. This problem is not confined to Turkey – there is parentally condoned truancy in England as well…
So, for the children who are sent to school, what is there to do in the holidays? Well, here in Selçuk the Belediye run free youth camps with activities. These are for older teenagers and young adults and seem to be very well subscribed. What most children do, however, is help their parents.
We visited a Turkish friend who was helping out in her brother’s restaurant. A young lad (a relative) was visiting and insisted on working as a waiter for the day. He was doing well at it. When our carpenter came round, he had a young lad (either his son or his assistant’s son) running back to the van for drill bits and holding things. The man who fitted our new iron bars to the side window also had a young assistant. Our boat trip was driven by a lad somewhere between 8 and 10 years old, under his father’s supervision… He was quiet, polite and concentrating very hard on sailing the boat. He took obvious pride in his own competence. He seemed to be enjoying himself. When we stopped off for afternoon swims, he was leaping into the water and squirting his father with a water pistol and generally acting like any child his age.
On the way back from our recent trip we noticed an advert in one of the petrol stations. It was a picture of a man washing his car with his young son (maybe three or four years old) helping him. The child was approaching the task with intense seriousness and concentration. I found it hard to imagine an English child of that age pictured in a similar situation.
Child labour can be a terrible thing. We think of sweat shops, of children forced to work hard under conditions that are often dangerous and unregulated. We think of children who miss out entirely on their childhoods. And this is, indeed a terrible thing. But what we are seeing her is different in a number of ways. These are children working alongside loving parents who watch out for them, who teach them. These are children who want to learn, who want to be useful to their families, who have a real sense of responsibility. And, when they are on a break, or when their working day is over, they play as noisily and as mischievously as children everywhere.
Here in Turkey we don’t hear children complaining that they are bored, demanding that their parents (or, very often, older siblings) find something to amuse them. They take part in the life of their families and their community. And, as long as they still have time to play, as long as they are not kept away from school, as long as they are not forced into working, this strikes us as not entirely a bad thing.