ISTANBUL (AKI) –Chilling television footage of child care workers bashing childrens’ heads together–beating a toddler with a shoe and splashing hot water on a naked child has sent waves of shock and indignation across Turkey. The images–filmed with a hidden camera inside an orphanage in Eastern Turkey–were aired on Star Television last week. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing fierce criticism for hiring managers at the child care centers for their religious credentials or party loyalty–not their professionalism.
The hidden camera placed in a state-run child care centre in the province of Malatya on October 25–showed a group of children under the age of six beaten by the employees of the center. The women’slap–kick–pull the ears and bash the children’s heads together. Television and newspaper switchboards were jammed in condemning the abuse.
The police forensic bureau on Monday reported that all 41 youngsters had bruises–cuts and burns–and a one-year-old baby had a broken leg. Social Services Child Care headquarters has filed criminal charges against three of the Malatya center employees–and nine people have been suspended. While the investigation continues–the authorities arrested two people who were captured on video.
But the fallout does not stop there. Local residents–who had witnessed the children being mistreated–have accused the government of negligence–saying a bevy of complaints were ignored.
Health Minister Recep Akdag immediately visited the center and ordered that the children be shifted to a luxury rehabilitation centre in Istanbul. But Nimet Cubukcu–the minister responsible for the social services–and the only woman in cabinet–has come under fire for her handling of the scandal.
Cubukcu was in London for a EU meeting when the scandal exploded and only visited Malatya six days later–which critics of the government consider irresponsible behavior.
Over the weekend Prime Minister Erdogan defended Cubukcu saying she was not on a tourist jaunt. "She attended the meeting with EU officials to search for a better social service system," he said.
But it is not just Cubukcu’s attitude that has provoked outrage. The Malatya scandal–and mushrooming allegations of abuse in other such centers–has highlighted two wider issues for government critics–the delays in social services reform which has been on the table since Erdogan’s Islamist-based Justice and Development Party swept to power in 2002 and allegations that the social service authorities hire on partisan and religious criteria–leading to staff with no child training/education skills in many centres.
"Are the kids supposed to be beaten to solve the problems in the social services?" questioned liberal-left newspaper Radikal in its headline on Tuesday. The government has long been criticized for filling the state-run offices with usually conservative or Islamic party sympathizers–rather than professionals.
After the scandal–secular groups and NGO’s say that their claims have unfortunately been proven correct. Malatya deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)–Ferit Aslanoglu–said that it was inevitable such incidents would occur. "If you employ those who love politicians instead of trained personnel–such things can happen anywhere in Turkey," he added.
The small victims of Malatya Child Care are now in a modern care center in Istanbul for rehabilitation. But there are new allegations of abuse–including sexual harassment.
A group of girls–aged between 13 and 18–in a state-run dormitory in the southeast province of Sanliurfa–claimed that the director of the dormitory–Aytekin Erdogan–was visiting their bedrooms at night under the premise of inspection–harassing and sometimes beating them.
Aytekin Erdogan also worked at the Malatya Child Care Center–but was dismissed after an investigation. He was then appointed to the dormitory in Sanliurfa where he has been working for one year.
The local television station is preparing to broadcast an interview with three female students from the dormitory. "The director calls us bitches and streetwalkers even for petty incidents. At night he suddenly opens the door to our bedrooms–regularly kicks and beats us. A friend of ours tried to commit suicide," the girls recounted. The director–who is now under investigation–dismissed the claims as a plot.
Female students also complained that they could not contact the minister Cubukcu through the numbers written on her business card. Cubukcu visited the dormitory last month.