You’re the non-governmental organization consisting of Turkey’s youngest members. When was the association founded?
Our association was founded in April 2016, and all of its founding members are high school students. What makes us the youngest is that our members are between 12 – 18 years old. In fact, if the law had allowed, there are friends who are even younger who want to join in. In our latest study, there were eight or nine years old children but unfortunately there is an age limit. Members aged 13 and over can be registered. 15 years and over can also serve on the board of directors. There is an age limit of 18 in our association. Now some of us are in university and some of us are retired. Since it is a special status association, those under 18 can only become members. In fact, these are our last years in the association. I am 19 years old, my term in the office continues, but at the next general meeting I will hand over my task to a younger friend. In the European integration process, children are given the right to form associations. In the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, there is a provision that children can come together and organize freely and establish associations. This is also a right for children. Hempa Children’s Association is actually the incarnation of that right. Hempa means “setting foot on the same path”. We’ve chosen such a name because we are children walking on the same path.
How many members do you have?
We have 45 members under the age of 18. We also have approximately 50 over 18 friends who volunteer in the field of children’s rights. Now we can say that we are a team of 100 people. We want to work qualitatively. Every child is allowed to join in but we need to have their parents’ permission. We assign them based on their active involvements.
We are trying to support the organization of children. Last week we gathered children from different parts of Turkey and gave them information about the youth organization, in Ankara. This is actually not a very common thing in Turkey. After this right was granted in 2004, other associations were established. We are the first and only children’s association in Ankara. There were 11 children that appear in the official records of the association in Turkey. As a result of our studies, another association joined us, and this number became 12. However, the number of associations currently active is still a few.
We are also working abroad. Last July, on the anniversary of Srebrenica, we went near the Bosnian mothers whose children were massacred in the war, to say “we’re here”. Turkish children wrote letters to their mother there. Letters were translated into Bosnian, and then we took the letters to Bosnian mothers. We told them “Maybe you don’t have your children right now, but all the children of the world are with you, we pray for your children.” We introduced traditional children’s games both in Turkey and in the four countries of the Balkans under Ankara Culture Days. Montenegro Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, we set up stands to promote our traditional children’s games. We told the games that children play in Turkey. On the other hand, we actually want to do more diverse works. We organize workshops for children and conduct interviews. We have an interview called “being a child in Africa”. Students who came from Africa to Turkey will talk about their childhood memories back Africa. How does a child in Africa live, what does he/she play, eat, drink or wear? We will have a program like this where experiences will be shared.
You have been working on “Turkey’s Children’s Rights Summit”. What is the content of the program?
Last year we launched a summit program and the second will be held this year. We bring together people who make news about children and use sensitive language in journalism with our participants, young people and our own members. In fact, the basis of this summit is giving awards to media members who are sensitive about children’s rights such as the most sensitive newspaper award, the most sensitive television channel, the most sensitive reporter award etc. This year the second will be held at Ankara Chamber of Commerce.
“Our goal is to increase the number of decreasing child associations.”
What kind of projects do you have? What are your goals?
We want children to build their own individual initiatives. We say that there are more need for more children’s associations in Turkey. We’ve failed about it, not only in Turkey but in Europe as well. The approach of parents and families is also important. Families are a bit shy. In order for children to form associations and become members, they need permission from their families. I must say that Europe has a voluntary system called EVS and there are close to 6 thousand 400 associations. We are the only association established by children among this 6 thousand 400 associations. Among them are European Union countries, European continent countries, and some countries in the Mediterranean basin. These associations are coordinating the voluntary service of the European Union. These associations are probably on a local scale and may not have enrolled in this system, but unfortunately there are no more than 6,400 child associations in statistical terms. We organized a workshop with the support of the European Union and took the step. Now it is time for the children, we expect the next step from them. We are constantly in contact with the children who had participated in the workshop.
How does the ones who want to become a member reach you?
They reach us through social media. They are asking what they can do about founding an association. We want to support them as much as possible about the process of children’s associations, writing regulations, the execution of official documents or public problems during the establishment process. When I first went to the directorate of associations, they said that I was under 18 and cannot establish an association. I said “No, it’s my legal right and it’s in the law”. I guess they didn’t have much information about associations’ law. I said that there was this article in the law and by looking at the law and reaching out their managers they finally said okay. Thus, the first children’s association of Ankara was established. Our studies continue in different cities. There are initiatives in Istanbul, Samsun and Diyarbakir and we expect them to be established in 2020. They send us their bylaws, we examine and make arrangements and deliver them again. The main reason we give mentoring is that other children not to face the problems we had experienced.
Will the child associations to be established appear as your branches?
Our goal in this regard as Hempa Association is, rather than establishing branches and representations, ensuring those children to establish their own associations and participate in civil society. We are trying to encourage them for that. At the same time, we want cooperation between child associations. We want to do things together. This is our wish, I hope this happens in the future.