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Cablegate: Istanbul Organizations Address Street Children And

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Pickpocketing incidents, particularly those
involving cellular telephones, have risen sharply throughout
Turkey in 2004, with the highest jump in Istanbul. National
attention following an incident leading to the death of a
student in Istanbul in November prompted the formation of a
ministerial commission, increased security and greater
punishments for pickpocketing. Government officials
attribute the growth in pickpocketing to poor economic
conditions leading to immigration from eastern and
southeastern Turkey, and an increase in street children
coming from broken families. Incidents continue, one
resulting in the arrest in Istanbul of a group of youths from
Diyarbakir in early December. State Minister Aksit predicted
the number of street children in Istanbul could rise to
625,000. Istanbul security officials contend that they do
not have sufficient funding to do more than arrest leaders of
groups of child criminals. Organizations such as the
Istanbul Social Services Directorate and NGOs addressing the
street children issue contend that pickpocketing is related
more to organized crime, and should be dealt with separately
from the increase in street children. End summary.

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Istanbul Pickpocketing Incident draws National Attention

2. (U) There were 11,886 pickpocketing incidents throughout
Turkey in the first nine months of 2004, an increase of 23
per cent nation-wide, compared to 9700 in the first nine
months of 2003. The incidents in Istanbul alone numbered
6000 in the first nine months of 2004, a 60 per cent increase
over the comparable period in 2003. The death of a
university student thrown from a train near Haydarpasha in
November by a group of youths who stole the student,s
cellular phone drew national attention to the rise of
pickpocketing and the related increase of street children.
Three youths were arrested in connection with the death of
the student, who was returning to his home in Istanbul via
the express train after classes at a university in Izmit.
The father of one of the youths arrested admitted that he
forced his two middle-school aged children to work to
contribute to the family budget, so his son started to sell
pismaniye (a sweet special to Izmit) on the train, but he had
fallen in with a bad group of friends.

3. (U) In response to public outcry after the incident, the
Council of Ministers formed a commission consisting of four
ministers (State Minister Aksit, Interior Minister Aksu,
Education Minister Celik and Health Minister Akdogan) to
research the causes of pickpocketing and the related issue of
street children. After the first meeting of the commission,
Aksit called the cause of the problem totally economic: 47
per cent came from the east and southeastern Anatolia; 42 per
cent had left primary school; 49 per cent came from broken
families; and 53 per cent had been exposed to violence.
Deputy General Director of Security, Ramazan Er, who
announced that additional police have been assigned to trains
to curb pickpocketing incidents, echoed Aksit, attributing
the cause to the immigration of families with many children
from rural areas to large cities, along with the separation
of the parents, who encourage their children to commit
crimes. Er also announced that the punishment for these
pickpocketing crimes would increase from three to seven years
in the new Turkish Punishment Law coming into effect April 1,
2005. The Supreme Court also placed the crime of cellular
telephone robberies within the category of extortion, and
increased the punishment for those indicted of extortion from
10 to 20 years.

4. (U) According to the last census, Aksit announced that
625,000 children in Istanbul are at risk of becoming street
children. Aksit added that 95 per cent of children working
in the streets are male, and that the working children issue
should be addressed separately from children living in the
streets. Based on the Security Directorate's 2003 estimate
of 88,313 street children addicted to drugs and involved with
crime, Aksit noted that 15 per cent of these children are age
10 and under, and 85 per cent are between 11 and 18 years
old. 44 per cent of these children are addicted to
cigarettes and other substances, and of this 4 percent are
addicted to alcohol, 2 per cent to paint thinner, 2 per cent
to glue, and 2 per cent to narcotics.

5. (U) In November 2004, some Belgian tourists in Istanbul
were injured by a group of young glue addicts in Cihangir
demanding money, and an Israeli tourist in Istanbul was also
attacked by glue sniffers. The number of street children in
Istanbul who are addicted to easily-obtainable inhalants such
as glue and paint thinner is apparently increasing, and some
may commit crimes such as pickpocketing on an individual
basis. However, Istanbul Governorate social services and NGO
officials believe that child glue addicts who commit crimes
are generally not controlled by organized crime, as they do
not produce a flow of money. These officials insist that the
street children problem must be dealt with separately from
the rise in pickpocketing, which is generally committed by
professionals controlled by mafia groups.

Child Crime in Istanbul on the Rise...

6. (U) Statistics from the Istanbul Children's Crime
division from January 1 - May 15, 2004 revealed that 5,569
children in Istanbul during that period were apprehended by
police and accused of committing 4,285 different crimes.
4,740 of those apprehended were released by the court and
returned to their families, 289 were sent back to their
countries, and 395 were sent to prison. 192 were accused of
pickpocketing theft; 310 of robbery, 546 of wounding others,
394 of fighting, and 131 of driving without a license.
Interestingly, of the children aged 11 years and under
accused of robbery, 191 were girls and 41 boys.

...but Limited Funds to Deal with Child Criminals

7. (SBU) Although National Security officials increased
punishments for the crimes, limited financial resources for
Istanbul security districts are preventing implementation of
policies to address the increase in pickpocketing. Beyoglu
Police Chief Gedik informed ARSO that he has stationed teams
of plainclothes police officers and additional uniformed
police in the Istiklal area to deal with increased crimes by
gangs of children. Gedik had made a proposal to the
Istanbul Chief of Police to develop a national program to
deal with gangs of children who commit pickpocketing and
other crimes, but was informed there were no funds for such a
program. Gedik also said that beyond arresting and
incarcerating several of the leaders of the gangs of street
children, he did not have the authority or resources to
combat the ongoing activities of the child criminals.
Reacting to public pressure about pickpocketing and street
children, Gedik began to round up children in his district
and transfer them to the Beykoz district, the responsibility
of the Jandarma, who Gedik is convinced have more resources
to address the problem.

Amcit Pickpocketing incidents centered in Taksim

8. (U) Istanbul ACS unit advises that the locus of
pickpocketing reported by American citizens has moved in 2004
from the tourist center of Sultan Ahmet to the business and
nightclub area in Taksim -- in the Beyoglu district.
However, there have thankfully been virtually no violent
incidents involving Americans in Istanbul over the past two
years in connection with pickpocketing.

Social Services and NGOs Address Street Children Problem

9. (SBU) While the government ministers and security
officials are convinced that the increase in street children
is a primary cause of the surge in pickpocketing incidents,
both municipal government officials and NGO directors assert
that the two issues are separate. Fevzi Yirtik, director of
the Istanbul Governorate,s Social Services Division, which
operates eight shelters for street children in Istanbul,
contends that most of the children in his shelters are not
involved in crime, and that it is important to distinguish
between street children and children involved in crimes such
as pickpocketing. Yusuf Ahmet Kulca, Director of the Umut
Cocuklar Dernegi (Association for Hope for Children),
believes that the pickpocketers are controlled by different
mafia groups, and attributes the rise in pickpocketing to the
annual influx of approximately 300,000 immigrants from
eastern and southeastern Turkey to Istanbul.

10. (SBU) Both the social services directorate and the NGO
deal with children from broken homes, due to divorce,
violence and abuse, and their goal is to reunite the children
with their families. Pediatricians and other experts in both
organizations work together to rehabilitate the children.
The Social Services Directorate, which has addressed the
problem of street children since 1998, deploys teams
monitoring the streets to look for children who should be
brought to the shelters, but will not do so by force. The
governorate,s 8 shelters have a capacity of 250, but
currently there are approximately 150-200 children in the
shelters, between the ages of 8 and 18, after which the state
is not responsible. The shelters have an open-door policy
for the children, so that they can come and go whenever they
want. Yirtik claims his directorate has not had a problem
with funding, and has been successful in reuniting one-third
of the children with their families. However, as many
involved in pickpocketing incidents are between age 18 and
25, the social services directorate,s ability to reduce
street crime for children over 18 is limited.

11. (SBU) The Hope for Children Association, one of 14 NGOs
in Istanbul dealing with street children, works with children
from age 7 to 27, 7 per cent of whom are girls. The
Association,s single shelter in Bakirkoy has a capacity of
50, but currently is housing 35-40 children. The NGO has
developed vocational projects to encourage children to stay
off the streets, including working in a laundry service. The
Association is supported only by private donations -- one of
their facilities was donated by Philip Morris -- and depends
on volunteers, including medical staff. Director Kulca
complained that they have recently had to cut staff severely
and cancel a project due to lack of funding.

12. (SBU) Comment: A continuing flow of immigrants from the
east and insufficient funding handicap the ability of
municipal, security and NGO organizations to deal with the
growing numbers of street children and the increase in child
crime. A city-wide effort to combat these problems,
including greater cooperation between security officials and
social organizations in Istanbul, is needed to reduce the
increase in pickpocketing and the involvement of children in
street crime.

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