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Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Turkey

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Turkey, 2004, available at: [accessed 22 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Republic of Turkey

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 70.3 million (25.8 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 514,850 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 19
Voluntary recruitment age: not applicable
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 4 May 2004
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182

In a state of emergency or partial mobilization, individuals aged 15 and over are liable for service in civil defence forces. There were no reports of child recruitment to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).


Torture in police custody was widespread and was practised systematically in the Anti-Terror branches of police stations in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. Many of the victims were political activists including supporters of leftist, pro-Kurdish and Islamic groups. From 2001 onwards the government introduced a number of legal reforms aimed at bringing Turkish law in line with European human rights standards and at meeting the criteria for accession to the European Union, although their implementation was uneven. In 2002 the state of emergency in the southeast was lifted.1 In 2003 Turkey granted a partial amnesty to members of the armed opposition group PKK. In November 2003 the PKK's successor organization, the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK), announced that it was to disband and be replaced by a new body committed to peaceful means, the Kurdistan People's Congress (KHK). However, low-level fighting persisted, particularly following the Turkish military build-up in the southeast during the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq after March 2003, and because of government fears over the level of autonomy for the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.2


National recruitment legislation and practice

The constitution states that "National service is the right and duty of every Turk" (Article 72).3 In accordance with Military Law No. 1111, liability for military service begins the year in which males turn 20.4 In mid-2003 the government approved cuts in the terms of service to 15 months (previously 18 months) for privates, 12 months (previously 16 months) for reserve officers and six months (previously eight months) for short-term military service.5 There is no voluntary recruitment. In times of mobilization or a state of emergency, individuals who are liable for military service may be recruited from the age of 19. The Military Code provides for voluntary recruitment to some elements of the armed forces at a minimum age of 18, but the government has stated that this is not applied in practice.6 Other legislation apparently permits the deployment of 15 to 18 year olds in civil defence forces during national emergencies. National Defence Service Law 3634 states that, "in cases of general or partial mobilization and in preparation of mobilization under a state of emergency, children under the age of 15 ... shall not be held liable". During a national crisis, the Constitution allows the suspension of rights and freedoms and other extraordinary measures.7

The government reportedly continued to organize, arm and pay the Village Guards, an armed civil defence force numbering 60,000 and mainly concentrated in southeast Turkey as part of its security operations there.8 The high rate of male adult unemployment in the area was believed to have limited the recruitment of under-18s.9 Even after the state of emergency in the region was officially lifted in November 2002, the security situation remained volatile, particularly in conjunction with events in the Kurdish border areas of neighbouring Iraq, and there was a partial mobilization. From January 2003, 80,000 more troops were deployed in the border area, bringing the total to 200,000.10

Military training and military schools

There are a number of military educational establishments for under-18s. By law, students of military high schools are not liable for compulsory military service and not members of the armed forces. Admission to military high schools and preparatory schools for noncommissioned officers is voluntary and requires parental consent. The minimum entrance age is 15 years, and students are permitted to leave at any time.11

It is not apparent from the Law on Military Academies whether there is a legal prohibition on admission of under-18s to Turkey's Higher Military Schools, the Naval, Air and Military Academies. The Naval Academy, for example, has no stated minimum entrance age but stipulates that candidates must be no more than 19 years old and that admission must occur no more than 12 months following graduation from civilian high schools.12 Students normally graduate from secondary schools at about the age of 17, and it is therefore possible that under-18s could be admitted to the Academy.13 Information about admission procedures was not available for the other academies.14

Armed political groups

Military action by the PKK and its successor organizations has gradually diminished since 1999. However, in 2003 an estimated 5,000 PKK fighters reinforced their positions in abandoned Iraqi border towns in anticipation of a Turkish invasion.15 There were another 1,000 in southeast Turkey.16 There were no reports during 20012004 of child recruitment or use by the PKK. In July 2003 the German authorities indicted a suspected leading member of the PKK on charges of kidnapping a 16-year-old girl in October 2001 to enrol her in a training camp abroad.17


International standards

Turkey ratified the Optional Protocol in May 2004. It made a declaration that citizens are not subject to military service before the age of maturity, at 19 years of age. It also made a reservation that it would implement the provisions of the Optional Protocol "only to the States Parties which it recognizes and with which it has diplomatic relations", although the implications of this remained unclear.18

1 Amnesty International Reports 2002, 2003 and 2004,

2 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Armed Conflict Database (subscribers only).

3 Constitution, at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (All about Turkey, Constitution).

4 Initial report of Turkey to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/51/Add.4, 8 August 2000,

5 Hurriyet – NTVMSNBC – Turkish Daily News, "Compulsory military service to be shortened", cited in Turkey News 17-23 June 2003, (Selected news, Archives).

6 Declaration of Turkey on ratifying the Optional Protocol, May 2004, (subscription required).

7 Initial report to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, op. cit.

8 US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2003, February 2004,

9 Communication from Quaker UN Office, Geneva, June 2004.

10 IISS, op. cit.

11 Declaration of Turkey on ratifying the Optional Protocol, op. cit.

12 Turkish war colleges, http://www.harpak.tsk.; Naval Academy, (History, Admission).

13 Initial report to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, op. cit.

14 Military Academy, tr/english/index.htm; Air Force Academy,

15 IISS, op. cit.

16 US Department of State, op. cit.

17 Middle East Times, "Suspected PKK leader indicted in Germany", 25 July 2003, (registration required).

18 Declaration of Turkey on ratifying the Optional Protocol, op. cit.

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