Syrian child refugees work as 'slaves' in Turkey

  • 11/05/2016
Syrian child refugees work as 'slaves' in Turkey

There are fears Syrian refugee children are being forced to work as slaves in Turkish factories.

Five million Syrians have escaped civil war -- 1 million of them children. Some have found themselves working in sweat shops for less than $1 an hour.

Filming with a hidden camera, CBS News found scores of factories using child labour in Turkey, most, perhaps all, of the children from Syria.

Some are as young as 11, refugees from a war now easily exploited.

A Turkish worker on the minimum wage earns around US$450 a month. A Syrian child, working 12 hours a day, earns as little as US$160.

At a school for Syrian children in Istanbul, boys aged 10 to 12 are just beginning to learn to read and write, because until recently most of them were full-time workers.

The school's founder, Shafik Suleyman, offers free tuition to encourage parents to send their children back to class. But sometimes that's not enough.

"They're being forced to send their kids to work," says Mr Suleyman. "They've got no choice. They have to send their children."

Leyla Akca is a psychologist who treats Syrian child refugees and their families, and says many factories prefer to hire children over their parents.

"You can overwork the children and they're not going to be oppositional; they're not going to ask for their rights. They don't know their rights. So they're just going to work like slaves and it's easier to keep them as slaves than doing it to an adult."

Turkey has taken in around 3 million Syrian refugees, spending billions of dollars to shelter and feed them.

But while they're safe, there's very little stable work and not much hope of building a future. That's why so many Syrians have risked their lives in rickety boats to reach Europe.

But now the European Union has promised Turkey nearly US$7 billion in return for its help stopping the refugees, and the crackdown has worked. For Syrians, the door to Europe has slammed shut, but the factories that prey on them appear to be operating with impunity, and hundreds of thousands of Syrian children in Turkey are growing up illiterate and powerless to change their fate.

CBS News