Working Life’s “Little Giant Men”

By Prof. Dr. A. Gurhan Fisek

As young as not being able to vote,
As old as earning their livelihood.

Nowadays, children are the most self-sacrificing people. They leave their childhood at the door of their workplaces; and then, they take “little giant steps” towards the production process. From that time on, they become adults at that workplace.


Before 1924, child workers neither heard anything about the concept of child rights, nor they had such an opportunity. Before 1802, child workers were unaware of the possibility that working environments could be meliorated through necessary regulations. It was the same for adult workers as well.

In 1802, the “Health and Morals Act for the Apprentices” was passed by the English Parliament. Concerning the history of both the social politics and of child labour, it was the first applicable written code. Not only for children, but also for adult workers… In 1924, Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the League of Nations; and it was the first declaration in regard to its mentioning economic, social and cultural rights. Not only for children, but also for adults…

Concerningthe written codes in Turkey, the Code of Obligations (dated Oct. 4,1926) and the Law on General Health Protection (1930) can be countedamong the ones directed towards child workers. However, child labourrelated sentences have had a limited scope of implementation just as in the case of the imperial edicts of the 18th century that were certified in the Ottoman Empire or in some European countries. Especially after the laws approved in 1977 and 1986 regulating the apprenticeship training, child workers have then become named as apprentices, and so, they have started to be treated out of the scope of the protective principles of the Labour Law. Furthermore, the relevant protections concerning child workers have remained limited as well.

In our opinion, the society has a debt of loyalty to be paid back to these apprentices. Because, their non-working coevals can continue their education by utilising from the public funds and hence can enjoy their childhood, while child workers are left no choice but leaving their schools and getting into the working life. These children, on the one hand, are involved in the production process actively; on the other hand, pretend to be adults while loosing their childhood identity.

In that case, the fact we should discuss is how we can have the society pay back its debt of loyalty. Before pondering upon the concrete action plans and model suggestions, we should first elaborate the situation of working children and the orientation of society towards child labour problem.

section one

orientation of society towards child labour problem in Turkey

Child labour problem arouses various different reactions in the society.Physicians (or in general, medical professionals) react against children’s being face to face with occupational hazards (whether causing physical or psychological problems). Community medicine physicians and social scientists are aware of the fact to what extent child labour problem was a setting for various violent implications in the past. And furthermore, they recall the social problems caused by these implications; hence, they react against the phenomenon. Pedagogues, on the other hand, know that children’s remaining away from schools is a total error, since they are in the exact period of learning, knowing and developing themselves. Hence, they also react accordingly.

On the other side, working children are aware of the facts that:

They have no choice but working;

In real life, they cannot concretely utilise from the knowledge provided in schools;

Concerning their education, they have no choice but graduating from a vocational high school or an university; yet, their families cannot afford these educational expenses.

Hence, they react against the social structures that do not provide these opportunities. Yet, they take care of their own affairs themselves; and they voluntarily get into the working life. Our researches have shown that the rate of involuntarily working children in just 6,8 % in Istanbul, and 20,2 % in Ankara. It has also been observed that the same interviewee children, in parallel to an increase in their ages, express their desires to return back to school as the interviews become deeper. It has been put forth that 47,8 % (in Istanbul) and 41,3 % (in Ankara) of the interviewee children have a desire to return back to school. These findings and various other observations demonstrate that working children give it theirs all in working life; they struggle to remain standing despite cold, vicious treatments, extended working hours, constraint of other working children that are older than themselves, and inconvenient working conditions. Because, in order to guarantee their future, they have no choice but working.

Their families, on the other hand, regard this solution positively, since working allows them to acquire an occupation and to remain standing by themselves. Our research has also presented that only 14,6 % of the interviewee families wants their children to work with daily economic concerns. Because, either they are not able to utilise from the social security systems (in general), or they regard these opportunities insufficient. Moreover, the families consider that getting into the working life at an early age is a significant mean for children to get acquainted with the real life and to become socialised. They hand over their children to a master workman they may trust; and they try to reduce the harms of this traditional occupational training model in this way. Some parents, on the other hand, reckon their children as a mean contributing to the family budget. Society should take over the responsibility that is not taken by these parents (Social Family = Social Protection).

Employers can not be treated as a single whole as well. The researches have proven that employers present different characteristics in terms of occupational health and safety issues. Working conditions of workplaces become improved, as the scale of a workplace becomes large; as the jobs necessitating high capital investments are preferred; and as the number of child workers diminish.

section two

situation of child workers in Turkey

The studies on child labour display that children between 7 and 15 years old should be treated under two groups. The first group is full-time working children, the other is school attending children. Among these students, there also ones who work during their extra-school hours (working after school everyday and working during the holidays). These groups and sub-groups have a considerable impact over children’s world, their friendships and point of views towards life.

Based upon the first most comprehensive research on child labour that we have carried out in 1985 and repeated in 1995, the differences between these two groups of children can be presented as follows:


1.Basic differences between schooling and full-time working children:








working during extra-school hours

Working during the holidays



58,0 %

78,4 %

80,0 %

85,1 %


42,0 %

21,6 %

20,0 %

14,9 %

As it is seen at Table-1, the rate of urban working children is far below the rate of urban non-working children. This is strongly related with rural children’s working at an early age nearby their parents. In rural life, working and age factors become intermingled with each other. And this research has put forth the fact that children in rural regions start working around 6-9 years old depending upon the variations of agricultural products.

Sencer & Erbilgen present that 36,4 % of 101 apprentices below 15 years old are born in the villages. If we also add the apprentices that are born in small towns, it is deduced that 61,8 % of the children that are evaluated under the scope of this investigation has a rural origin. This finding is compatible with the one that we’ve found throughout our studies (57,5 %). The weight of the rural origins has an impact over the causes in regard to children’s getting into the working life.

2.Differences with respect to the causes affecting children’sgetting into working life:

According to the findings we’ve deduced from 404 full-time working children under the scope of our study, 39,6 % of rural origin children gets into the working life with the purpose of having an occupation; and this rate is 13,3 % among urban origin children.






urban (%)

Rural (%)



Requirements of Families for children’s financial contributions





Desire to have an occupation





Disliking education





Loneliness and trying to become like their friends





Not wanting to be a loafer and wanting to earn a pocket money










Number of subjects




Working causes of 164 students working during their extra-school times can be enumerated as follows according to the importance degrees:



Children’s opinion with their own expressions

Parents’ opinion with children’s expressions

Not to kill time in vain and not to wander around the streets

% 9,8

47,1 %

To learn an occupation

27,3 %

Financial contribution (for family and educational expenses)

75,0 %

17,6 %


15,2 %

8,0 %

3.There is a close association between the income-assurance level offamilies and their children’s working or being able to attendschools. Among the children who can continue their education, thecorrelation between working and low income levels can be presented asfollows:

  • The rate of non-working children among low income families : 43,0 %

  • The rate of working children (summer holidays) among low income families : 50,0 %

  • The rate of working children (extra-school hours) among low income families : 55,1 %

Therefore, it is clear that the tendency to work becomes intensified as the family income becomes lower.

There is also a close correlation between fathers’ having a regular income and children’s tendency either to work or attend schools. Among working children, the rate of children having “alive and regularly salaried” fathers is 67,9 %, while it is 89,7 % among children who attend schools. As it is observed, insecurity leads children to get into the working life.

4.There are distinctions between working and schooling children interms of height-weight averages, the amount of protein taken in adaily diet and of problematic physical structures. In our research,height and weight averages of children between 15-18 years old have been compared with the normal values by considering each age group separately. Except for a limited number of working children who are compatible with the normal values, it has been observed that there is a considerable difference between working and schooling children.

Similarly, the comparisons based on daily protein taking averages have shown that 91,0 % of the working children is regarded as taking sufficient degree, while it is 95,6 % for schooling children.

When we elaborate on the determined health problems, we see that the first three problems of working children are dental (40,6 %), otorhinolaryngological (18,3 %) and ocular (9,4 %); while they are enumerated as 30,0 % otorhinolaryngological, 19,8 % dental and 19,8 % ocular for schooling children.

5.There are also significant differences between these two groups ofchildren in regard to friendly relationships and leisure timefacilities. Table-4 is based upon the findings collected with respectto the leisure time activities of children.







attending schools

Reading book

48,0 %

54,9 %

92,7 %

Reading newspaper

81,0 %

74,5 %

95,5 %

Going to movie

50,4 %

58,8 %

82,1 %

Doing physical exercises

61,5 %

80,4 %

89,4 %

As it is deduced from the table, leisure time activities of full-time working children are at the minimum. In this group of children, it has been observed that the differences regarding the leisure time activities between children working more than 56 hours on a weekly basis and less than 56 hours are in favour of the latter group. Concerning the children working during extra-school hours, the time spent for leisure time facilities is limited. In spite of this, non-working schooling children have an advantageous position in comparison with the other children.

6.Another difference is related with the group in which children’sbest friends are involved. Working children assume other workingchildren as their best friends with 73,7 % frequency; while thereverse is also true for school attending children with 93,8 %frequency.

Forboth group, two thirds of the children defines their best friends’most favourable characteristics with the following words: honest;straightforward; confidant; a good friend; harmonious; sympathetic.

Whenthe children are asked about the role model they idealise, 63,6 % of the working children has replied as “there is no such person“. Among school attending children, the same reply is only 29,0 %. As for the cases in which such a role model is idealised, employers come first (55,1 %) for working children, and a family member (63,5 %) for children attending schools. Among child workers, only 35,5 % of them wants to resemble one of the family members.

Thesechildren have also been asked about why they want to resemble those people. Insofar as the working children’s replies are concerned, the majority (58,5 %) of the causes is related with the “success in a job or a comfort living“. For the school attending children, it is for “his or her being an esteemed, learned, loveable, and good person” with 67,9 %.

7.Another dissimilarity is about the future expectations. As for whatthey want to be in the future, working and school attending childrenhave given different replies. The rate of “children who wantto establish their own businesses” is 50,9 % among workingchildren. This rate increases among children who have discontinuedtheir education after finishing primary school, who have a rural origin, who are involved in occupations not requiring high capital investments, and who are men.

For school attending children, on the other hand, this rate is 44,3 %. And it is 15,8 % among working girls. For girls, the major factor determining their future working life is marriage. 29,8 % of the girls has stated that they are to decide and act according to their future husbands’ opinion; while 24,5 % of them has told that they are to quit their jobs and become housewives; and 17,5 % has said that they are to take a break when having a child.


As it is observed, there is a clear-cut divergence between the worlds of working and school attending children. This divergence proposes a key for us to understand the gap between individuals in the later period of their lives, and understand the inability to establish a dialogue and act with solidarity. The key for an integrated and self-sacrificing society is about reducing the differences among these children at an early age and about guaranteeing solidarity accordingly.


section three

action plans and model proposals in Turkey in order to make the debt of loyalty paid back to working children


The society has a debt of loyalty for working children who feel a worry about future and about earning money at an early age. This debt cannot be postponed. Because, these children are continuously hurt. Moreover, they are to get married in 3-5 years time and have children. For all these reasons, urgency is the most important element of the action plans directed towards child labourers.


This urgency renders child labour studies necessary to be treated under two level of analysis, as short-term and long term. It is not wrong to define the long-term action plan as the elimination of the factors that push children to get into the working life, in other words, to define as Combat with Poverty Program.


On the other hand, short-term action plan includes improving the working conditions of children and reducing their problems. These actions cover these issues: universal health services provided for working children and adults by Fisek Institute; environmental measurements aiming at the melioration of working environments; counselling, training and occupational safety services; and an exhibition house for precautions.


As Fisek Health Services and Research Institute, we have theorised our activities for working children under the frame of a model. As we call Fisek Model, this model study is a way that we propose for society to pay its debt of loyalty back to these working children.


The experiences of our institute are based upon the improvement of shared health-safety units established at small-scale industrial regions. For working children, these services include mobile units (mobile clinics) visiting these workplaces one by one; first-aid and rescue units (Health Centre at Industry) taking place in the industrial region; and a unit working in Apprenticeship Education Centres (School Health Unit).


Social risks are among the most important risk groups with which children are faced in working life. Loosing childhood identity is a significant consequence of these dangers. A child necessitates to abandon his or her childhood identity in order to remain standing among adult workers or the ones who are older than him/herself. Hence, s/he is not able to enjoy his or her childhood, while remaining in isolation. For this reason, the action plan that we’ve developed under the frame of Fisek Model is a study on the Reacquisition of Childhood Identity. By utilising from the opportunities of sport sciences, it has been endeavoured to create opportunities for solidarity and self-development of children, and their being able to enjoy their childhood.


In this way, we utilise from the opportunities of three medical branches both for the occupational medicine services provided at small-scale enterprises and for the school health services provided at Apprenticeship Education Centres. These are occupational medicine, school medicine, and sports medicine-education.


Fisek Model, which has been developed by our institute for child workers, presents various firsts in Turkey’s conditions; yet it bears the “firsts” and “originalities” at the world scale as well. In addition to the ones described above, four important characteristics of this model can be specified as follows:


  • allowing participation;
  • an updateable and repeatable character;
  • self-financing;
  • its being composed of implementation centres organised around the same focus.


This model study aims to put the rights of children into practice, the rights which have been acquired through human rights conventions and constitutional amendments. Thence, it bears the characteristics of a community medicine action on the one hand, on the other hand of a human rights action.


In Turkey, we have been experiencing the pleasure of having a “first” accepted Children’s Day on a world scale. Now, it is the turn to be in the forefront of protective programs (or loyalty services and Combat with Poverty Program) directed towards the child workers.


For this to be achieved, rather than doing something for and on behalf of children, children should be allowed to claim their rights themselves and to be organised in order to found a future for themselves that is purified from the economic constraints.

This article was published in the TTB (Turkish Medical Association) Continuous Medical Education Periodical, Volume 5, No. 4, April 1996.