These kids will read

There they are in Radikal newspaper: three boys aged seven, nine and eleven. The arms of the kaymakam, a local governor, is wrapped around them as he says: ‘These kids will read’.

The kids have been in the news for days now. It started with the news that a five year old boy, Bedrettin, was found beaten  almost to death: he had a fractured skull, bad cuts on his left wrist, swollen eyes and a cable around his neck. He was lying under the Galata Bridge, and soon it turned out he was a street kid begging and selling handkerchiefs. And that he was beaten up by some other street kids, because he was selling and begging in their district. The kids were found, and those are the kids in the picture with the kaymakam. They will be taken to a state orphanage and taught to read.

There are around four thousand of these kids in Istanbul, begging, stealing and glue-sniffing their way through the days. Around the Galata Bridge is one of the places where you see them a lot, especially late at night when the tourists are gone. These three boys, brothers actually, and Bedrettin, were from a village in the southern province of Adana, where everybody makes a living begging. It’s their way of life, everybody grows up with it and the parents send their kids to Istanbul, for example, to make a living. Or the parents go to Istanbul with them, or they hire a kid to help them beg. The kids are drugged so they keep quiet and sleep in the adults’ arms. The punishment for these parents is not very severe: usually they get away with a fine. If they are punished at all, that is.

The faces of the three boys in the picture break your heart. Bedrettin’s pictures too – luckily he is no longer in intensive care and is slowly recovering But does it have to go this far before the state starts to protect you? Of course, from time to time kids are taken away from their official parental care and brought under state protection. But apparently it helps to practically kill or get killed to get some official put his arms around you and decide it’s time you start learning to read.

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