Chronic poverty affecting children’s development in Turkey - report

Children from low-income neighbourhoods in Turkey increasingly go to school hungry, which stunts their growth and slows their mental development, daily BirGün reported on Saturday citing experts in education.

A 2020 study by the Education Ministry showed that children in the country were only good at speaking their native language, while reading comprehension levels remained extremely low. Only 0.05 percent of students were able to answer all 20 multiple-choice questions correctly, while the average was found to be 10.63 correct answers. Majority of students clustered around 6 and 20 points for writing on a scale of 36 points, BirGün said.

Another study by the Turkish Family Medicine Journal, with 1,049 participants, found that 25 percent of all children in the study were severely underweight, while 13.2 percent of high school and 19.8 percent of middle school students were found to be at a weight lower than normal.

Some 87 percent of elementary school children were found to be anaemic and 5.4 percent of children in southeast Turkey were found to have stunted development due to continued hunger.

“Children have regressed in comprehension and perception over the years, and there is a spike in behavioural problems,” a teacher in one of Istanbul’s working class neighbourhoods told BirGün. “I think this is because they go hungry. There is much more fatigue among children too, compared to past years. They sleep in class. Probably because of malnutrition.”

Another teacher in a lower-middle class neighbourhood in Istanbul said children have been eating carbohydrate-rich meals. “This affects learning of course. Poverty has a visible effect on children. There are more illnesses going around. Even the children who used to have nicer stationary now use their pencils until only an inch is left,” she added.

A teacher in Ankara’s poorer districts said children from lower economic backgrounds are quieter and interact less. “They don’t ask as many questions, and are more closed off. Many have less than peaceful households due to a lack of funds. Their families don’t expect much of these children, and they act accordingly. Poverty is a huge obstacle for children,” she said.

Lunches children bring to school lack protein and fresh produce, a teacher in Izmir said. “The students fall behind their age group because of malnutrition. They have lowered capacities for learning, and they have worse comprehension,” she said.

Attention span in children is hugely impacted by nutrition, Ayşe Bilge Selçuk of Koç University’s Psychology Department told BirGün. “As economic hardship grows, children cannot get enough nutrition for their brains to function properly. Attention is directly correlated to nutrition,” she said.

“Chronic poverty causes psychological trauma, too. Childhood development is closely tied to the economy and chronic poverty,” she added.

“Turkey is dealing with hunger, not poverty,” Hacer Foggo from the support group Deep Poverty Network told reporters on Friday.

Cost of living has been on a steep rise in the country as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a currency crisis, and the energy and food supply crises arising from Russia’s war in Ukraine combined in a perfect storm, resulting in 61.1 percent inflation in March, continuing the record-high levels of the last two decades.

“Access to good nutrition is a right,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu told reporters on Friday.

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