Nearly 200 children between the ages of 12 to 18 are currently being held on terror charges in Turkey, the country’s General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses has revealed.
The Directorate confirmed that a total of 2,767 children are currently being housed in child prisons, 197 of whom are there on terror charges. Of those jailed for terror-related offenses, 15 were residing in educational facilities, while four were enrolled in an education system.
“33 of the 182 children who were in juvenile prisons or in the child section of adult prisons are currently enrolled in a non-formal education system,” the Directorate stated. “One was enrolled in basic literacy education.”
Child indoctrination by terrorists, particularly the Islamic State, has become a growing issue in Turkey in recent years, which includes the existence of training camps scattered across Istanbul, as well as coercing them into carrying out attacks or featuring in propaganda material.
Turkish prosecutors have also investigated claims that militants had established a school in Istanbul to indoctrinate children by teaching them a pro-jihadist ideology and urging them to reject the country’s secular constitution.
In 2016, Turkish authorities identified the suspect behind a suicide bomb attack on a Kurdish wedding in Turkey, which killed 54 people wounded 66 others, as a child between 12 to 14 years old who was coerced into wearing his remote-detonated explosive device.
The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for an attack on a nightclub in Istanbul last New Year’s Eve that killed at least 39 people and wounded scores of others. In March, authorities announced the arrest of over 800 terror suspects in the space of a week, exacerbated by Turkey’s large refugee population. As of July 2017, over three million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey as part of a settlement agreed to by the European Union.
However, international observers also remain skeptical of Turkish authorities’ definition of terrorism, given President Recep Erdogan’s campaign against followers of self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Erdogan insists was the mastermind behind the country’s attempted coup that took place in 2016.
Erdogan has since labeled Gulen’s religious movement the “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO), leading to the arrest of an estimated 50,000 people, while 120,000 suspended from positions of public service since the coup attempt.
In September, Erdogan admitted to detaining American pastor Andrew Brunson, on charges of spreading pro-Kurdish propaganda, to force a trade-off between him and Gulen, who currently lives in exile in Pennsylvania. However, the State Department has since rejected the proposal.