Istanbul, Nov 9 () - More than 400,000 Syrian refugee children in Turkey are unable to attend school despite a Turkish government move allowing them access to the Turkish schooling system, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
The U.S.-based rights group cited language barriers, integration issues and financial difficulties as reasons for the poor attendance in a report released Nov. 9 on its website.
As of October 2015, there were approximately 708,000 Syrian refugee children aged 5 to 17 in Turkey, said the 62-page report titled “‘When I Picture My Future, I See Nothing’: Barriers to Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey.”
In 2014-2015, just over 212,000 were enrolled in formal education at the primary and secondary levels, based on Education Ministry data.
The Turkish Education Ministry said it aims to have 270,000 Syrian children in school by January 2016 and 370,000 in school by the end of the 2015-2016 school year, said the report, while citing the number 400,000 as the number out of the education system.
The report said enrollment rates are higher in education centers built in camps near the Syrian border. But a majority of school-aged children are living in cities outside the camps and are forced to work instead of attending school due to economic or language barriers.
“Around 90 percent of school-aged children living in the 25 government-run camps were enrolled in school in 2014-2015; however, children in camps represent only 13 percent of the Syrian refugee school-aged population,” said the report, adding that “outside the camps, only 25 percent of school-age children were enrolled in school in 2014-2015.” Overall, more than two-thirds of Syrian children are receiving no formal education in Turkey, according to the report.
Financial hardship was a major obstacle preventing Syrian children from going to class in Turkey, HRW said, with refugees not permitted to work legally and often unable to afford any school fees or transport charges.
Some 32 out of 50 households interviewed cited economic circumstances as a major barrier to both Turkish schools and temporary education centers.
“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,” HRW said.
Many were also unable to attend school because of the language barrier, while others faced bullying and social integration difficulties. In some cases, they were even turned away, HRW said.
Fatima, a mother of four living in the southern city of Mersin, told HRW that her two school-aged sons, 9 and 11, were not in school because she didn’t “know anything about how to register or if they are allowed to go, and they are working now.”
In total, nearly three million children are out of school both inside and outside Syria, a country where primary school enrollment was once almost 100 percent, according to estimates from the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.
More than four million Syrians have fled the conflict since March 2011, with the number of dead estimated at more than 250,000.
Turkey, which is hosting more than 2.2 million refugees alone, last year agreed to grant Syrian children access to public schools and to authorize temporary education centers set up by charities or other organizations.
Turkey has already spent more than $7 billion (6.5 billion euros) on the Syrian refugee crisis since 2011 and $252 million on education in 2014-2015 alone, HRW 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,” HRW said. The group called on the international community to provide “urgent financial and technical support” for initiatives that would expand the children’s access to an education.