We write in advance of the 93rd session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (“the Committee”) and its review of Turkey. This submission includes information on government-endorsed online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation of migrant children, including their access to education and healthcare, and the protection of education from attack.
Children’s Rights Abuses by Government-Endorsed Online Learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic (articles 3, 16, 28, and 29)
In a global investigation of education technology (EdTech) products endorsed by the world’s most populous countries for children’s education during the pandemic, Human Rights Watch found that the Turkish government directly violated children’s right to privacy and other rights, for purposes unrelated to their education. We analyzed Eğitim Bilişim Ağı (EBA) and Özelim Eğitimdeyim, two EdTech products that were built and used by the education ministry as its primary means of delivering online education to children during the pandemic.
Human Rights Watch found that both products tagged and tracked children and identified their devices using tracking techniques designed solely for advertising purposes, and sent this information to third-party companies. These products infringed on children’s privacy, as these data practices were neither necessary nor proportionate for these products to function, or for the purpose of providing education. Neither app allowed their users to decline to be tracked—this data collection was invisible to the child.
Children who relied on EBA and Özelim Eğitimdeyim as their primary source of education during school closures could not reasonably object to such surveillance without opting out of compulsory education and giving up on formal learning during the pandemic.
Eğitim Bilişim Ağı
Eğitim Bilişim Ağı (EBA) is “the digital education platform of the Ministry of National Education,” and was offered as a website and as an app to preschool, primary, and secondary school students to continue learning during Covid-19 school closures. The app has over 10 million estimated users as of April 2023; both the website and the app continue to be regularly updated with video classes and materials for students.
Human Rights Watch detected EBA’s app collecting children’s Android Advertising IDs (AAIDs), a persistent identifier that exists for the sole use of enabling advertisers to track a person, over time and across different apps installed on their device, for advertising purposes. EBA then transmitted its students’ AAID to Google via the Google-owned domains www.googleadservices.com and app-measurement.com. The first domain, www.googleadservices.com, is operated by Google Ads, the company’s online advertising platform. Google Ads uses the information it collects to understand a person’s interests and auctions off to the highest bidder the chance to show an ad to those in the advertiser’s target audience.
Human Rights Watch also found that EBA had the capability to access its child user’s phone number and their call logs.
Özelim Eğitimdeyim is an app that was developed and offered by the Directorate of Special Education for students with special needs to continue learning during pandemic-related school closures. The app had over 1 million estimated users as of April 2023.
Human Rights Watch detected Özelim Eğitimdeyim collecting and transmitting children’s AAID to two advertising technology companies, Flurry and Google. Özelim Eğitimdeyim was also detected collecting and transmitting what children do inside of the app, including their in-app navigation, to the companies AppLyze and Flurry.
Özelim Eğitimdeyim also had the capacity to collect children’s precise location data, or GPS coordinates that can identify a child’s exact location to within 4.9 meters. It also had the ability to collect the time of the device’s current location, as well as the last known location of the device. Together, this data would reveal to the Turkish government where a child is, where they were before that, and how long they stayed at each place.
These data practices were neither proportionate nor necessary for the app to function or deliver educational content.
Failure to Protect
Children who relied on EBA and Özelim Eğitimdeyim as their primary source of education could not meaningfully object to such surveillance during Covid-19 school closures. Neither product allowed their users to decline to be tracked; most of this surveillance happened secretly, without the child’s knowledge or consent. In such cases, it was impossible for children to opt out of such surveillance and data exploitation without opting out of school and giving up on formal learning altogether during the pandemic.
Human Rights Watch did not find evidence that the education ministry took measures to prevent or mitigate children’s rights abuses through the data practices of EBA and Özelim Eğitimdeyim, or that the education ministry checked whether they were safe for children to use. As a result, children whose families were able to afford access to the internet and connected devices, or who made hard sacrifices in order to do so, were exposed to the risks of misuse or exploitation of their data.
Turkey’s Ministry of National Education did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s requests for comment.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Turkey:
- Does the government have plans to develop and enforce comprehensive child data protection laws?
- What recourse or remedy does the government provide, or is planning to provide, to children who have experienced infringements of their rights as a result of their use of EBA and Özelim Eğitimdeyim, and whose data remain at risk of misuse and exploitation?
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Turkey to:
- Amend its existing data protection law, the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 (2016), to adopt child-specific data protections that address the significant child rights impacts of the collection, processing, and use of children’s personal data. This should include defining special protections for categories of sensitive data that should never be collected from children in educational settings, such as location data and persistent identifiers designed for advertising.
- Provide remedies for children whose data were collected through their use of EBA and Özelim Eğitimdeyim. To do so, the appropriate authorities should:
- Immediately remove all tracking technologies from EBA and Özelim Eğitimdeyim and delete any children’s data collected during the pandemic.
- Immediately notify and guide affected schools, teachers, parents, and children to prevent further collection and misuse of children’s data.
- Require advertising technology (AdTech) companies to identify and immediately delete any children’s data they received from EBA and Özelim Eğitimdeyim during the pandemic.
Mistreatment, Abuse, and Killing of Migrant Children (articles 6, 19, 22, 24, 27, and 37)
Turkey officially hosts over 3 million Syrian refugees and some 320,000 non-Syrians, mostly Afghans. Although Turkey has rightly earned international acclaim and support for hosting the largest number of refugees of any country in the world, it routinely pushes Syrian and Afghan asylum seekers back at its borders or deports them to Syria and Afghanistan in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch found in 2022.
For a November 2022 report, we interviewed 68 Afghans, including 1 girl and 11 boys. All the men and boys travelling without female family members personally experienced or witnessed Turkish authorities beating or otherwise abusing them and others who were with them.
Some reported that Turkish authorities took them to informal “camp” locations near the Iranian border where they were held for up to two days before being pushed back. They were often physically abused and humiliated while there and were never formally processed or given an opportunity to seek asylum. Hamid, an 18-year-old from Afghanistan described being held with another 150 people including women and children, in an “earthen pit.”
Migrants and asylum seekers are also held in removal centers for days, weeks, or, in some cases, months. Many interviewees reported physical abuse when they were detained in those centers, including children.
Turkish authorities employed similarly abusive tactics against Syrian refugee boys as they did against men. We found that between February and July 2022, Turkish authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained, beat, and deported hundreds of Syrian refugee men and boys to Syria. We interviewed by phone or in person inside Turkey 37 Syrian men and 2 Syrian boys. All said the Turkish authorities had kept them in cramped, unsanitary rooms in various removal centers. Beds were limited and boys under 18 were detained with adult men. All interviewees described a lack of adequate food and access to washroom facilities, as well as other unsanitary conditions.
Moreover, Afghan boys seeking asylum consistently told us that Turkish authorities listed their age as 18 or that they made no age assessment whatsoever. Rostam, a 14-year-old boy from Kabul who attempted to cross from Iran to Turkey in December 2020, got as far as Van but was arrested and beaten by Turkish authorities, who at no time attempted to determine his age or otherwise properly process him:
All of us were treated the same, beaten, regardless of age. They beat us with police batons. They kept us for one night with no food or drink. I was hit on my head and my waist. The next day they deported us. On the border they kicked me and beat me with their fists. About 11 p.m. at night, they stripped us of our clothes and burned them. I was left only with my pants and undershorts. They took my shoes. For two weeks I could hardly walk because I had to walk down a rocky hill to cross back to Iran.
Ramazan, a 15-year-old Hazara boy from Ghazni, fled Afghanistan in mid-September 2021. He said Turkish officials wrote that he was 18 years old. Ramazan asked for help, to no avail:
I told them I was 15, but the Afghan translator told me he couldn’t help me. I told the interpreter I was underage, that I had suffered a lot and that I needed asylum, but the Turkish officer just said “No, No.” (“Yok, Yok.”) I asked the Afghan translator if he could contact UNHCR for me. He told me that he could not.
Many Afghans inside Turkey are routinely prevented from accessing any procedure to assess their claims for international protection, and many are being deported to Afghanistan with little to no examination of their refugee claims. This happened to a 16-year-old boy we talked with from Herat, Afghanistan who said his father was killed by the Taliban. “The day before I was deported, a guard at the Edirne Removal Center told me I had to sign a deportation paper. I refused to sign it. He hit me on my arm with a metal police baton.” The next day, the boy said another official took his hand and forced his fingerprint on the paper.
We have also documented Turkish border guards shooting and beating Syrian asylum seekers trying to cross to Turkey, often resulting in injuries and killings. For example, we interviewed victims and witnesses involved in seven incidents between the first week of March and April 17, 2016, in which Turkish border guards shot dead a 15-year-old boy asylum seeker and shot and injured three child asylum seekers aged 3, 5, and 9 at the time, in addition to nine adults who were also killed or injured.
In February 2018, Human Rights Watch reported on further pushbacks, injuries, and killings that happened in the second half of 2017. We spoke to 16 Syrian refugees who entered Turkey with smugglers between May and December 2017, 15 in person in Urfa and Gaziantep, in southern Turkey, and the other remotely. Thirteen said Turkish border guards had shot toward them or other fleeing asylum seekers as they tried to cross while still in Syria, killing 10 people, including one child, and injuring several more.
In one case, a woman had given birth while attempting to cross the border with others. The Turkish border guards sent the group, including her and the child, back to Syria without providing medical assistance.
While Turkey is entitled to secure its borders, it is required to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits rejecting asylum seekers at borders when that would expose them to the threat of persecution, torture, and threats to life and freedom. Turkey must also respect the right to life and bodily integrity.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the Turkish government:
- What steps are being taken to halt pushbacks from Turkish territory and investigate all use of excessive force by border guards?
- How many child migrants and asylum seekers are detained in informal camps and removal centers? Please provide disaggregated data on those detained by age and gender.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the Turkish government to:
- Immediately halt all pushbacks from Turkish territory and at Turkey’s borders.
- End mistreatment of child migrants and asylum seekers and halt their detention for reasons solely related to their immigration status or in centers alongside unrelated adults.
- Conduct a transparent, thorough, and impartial investigation into allegations that Turkish security and law enforcement personnel are involved in acts that put the lives and safety of migrants and asylum seekers at risk, including collective expulsions, killings, beatings, and other violence.
- Issue standard instructions to border guards at all crossing points underscoring that firearms are only to be used when strictly necessary as a last resort in response to a threat to life. No one crossing or who has crossed the border is to be mistreated, and all should be given access to medical aid when required, including people who are pregnant, in labor or delivery, or immediately post-childbirth.
- Direct border police to accept an individual’s declared age if there is a reasonable possibility that the person is a child. In such cases, border police should expeditiously transfer those individuals to the care of child protection authorities and promptly assign them a guardian, and the authorities should ensure age assessment examinations are conducted according to international standards.
- Ensure that full and fair consideration is given to all claims for international protection, including age-appropriate examination of child asylum claims by specially trained adjudicators.
Barriers to Education and Healthcare for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (articles 2, 22, 24, 28, and 32)
Human Rights Watch research indicates that child asylum seekers and refugees have faced various obstacles in accessing essential services including education and healthcare in Turkey. Turkey’s Temporary Protection Regulation grants Syrian refugees access to such basic services but generally requires them to live in the province in which they are registered. Refugees must obtain permission to travel between provinces. Turkey’s suspension of registration throughout several provinces across the country has been leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.
In 2022, Turkey’s Interior Ministry introduced a policy of “thinning out” the foreigner population by designating 1,169 neighborhoods in 63 provinces as “closed” to new registrations of refugees. This policy applies to locations where the refugee population is believed to make up more than 20 percent of the overall population.
Asylum seekers from countries other than Syria are required to live in assigned cities and are restricted from moving elsewhere even if there are few job opportunities and limited aid where they are assigned. In 2017, we found that asylum seekers who stayed in their assigned city faced poverty-related barriers to education, with parents unable to meet associated costs or feeling they have little choice but to send their children to work rather than school. Those who moved in search of work lost their legal status, without which they could not enroll their children in school. 
Some families described arbitrary decisions by school directors or local education ministry officials that kept children out of school. Three Afghan students dropped out after their school director arbitrarily refused to allow them to take a secondary school entrance exam, insisting that they had to enroll in a vocational school.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the Turkish government:
- How many refugees and asylum seekers are enrolled in primary and secondary education? Please provide recent and disaggregated data to the extent possible, including by age range, gender, and country of origin.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the Turkish government to:
- Instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any person in need, regardless of their registration status.
- Instruct all schools to allow all child asylum seekers to enroll regardless of their registration status.
- Resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians, and ensure that all asylum seekers, including Afghans and others, can register asylum claims and that these are promptly adjudicated.
- Ensure that asylum seekers are not assigned to cities without job opportunities or available aid, provide information about the support available, and allow asylum seekers to change satellite cities based on financial need.
Protection of Education from Attack (article 28)
The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express political support for the protection of students, teachers, and schools during times of armed conflict; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. In June 2022, the UN Secretary-General encouraged governments to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. As of March 2023, 117 states had endorsed the declaration.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Turkey:
- What steps has Turkey taken to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration?
- Do any Turkish laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict?
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the government of Turkey to:
- Endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.
- Ensure Turkish laws, policies, or trainings provide explicit protection for schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.
 Human Rights Watch, “How Dare They Peep into My Private Life?”: Children’s Rights Violations by Governments that Endorsed Online Learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2022), https://www.hrw.org/report/2022/05/25/how-dare-they-peep-my-private-life/childrens-rights-violations-governments.
 Eğitim Bilişim Ağı Privacy Profile, Human Rights Watch feature, https://features.hrw.org/features/StudentsNotProducts/files/privacy_snapshots/Privacy%20Snapshot%20-%20Turkey%20Egitim%20Bilisim%20Agi.pdf.
 Translation provided by Google Translate. See: Google Play Store, “EBA,” https://web.archive.org/web/20210226101852/https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=tr.gov.eba.hesap (accessed February 26, 2021).
 Turkey Ministry of National Education, “EBA,” https://eba.gov.tr/ (accessed April 3, 2023); Google Play Store, “EBA,” https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=tr.gov.eba.hesap (accessed April 3, 2023).
 See for example, Google Ads, “Display Campaigns,” https://web.archive.org/web/20210825072918/https://ads.google.com/intl/en_us/home/campaigns/display-ads/ (accessed August 25, 2021); Google Ads, “Discovery Ads,” https://web.archive.org/web/20210825072911/https://ads.google.com/intl/en_us/home/campaigns/discovery-ads/ (accessed August 25, 2021).
 Özelim Eğitimdeyim Privacy Profile, Human Rights Watch feature, https://features.hrw.org/features/StudentsNotProducts/files/privacy_snapshots/Privacy%20Snapshot%20-%20Turkey%20Ozelim%20Egitimdeyim.pdf.
 Google Play Store, “Özelim Eğitimdeyim,” https://web.archive.org/web/20210225220455/http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.meb.ozelimegitimdeyim (accessed April 3, 2023)
 As verified by Google Play Store user installs globally, as of April 2023. See: Google Play Store, “Özelim Eğitimdeyim,” https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.meb.ozelimegitimdeyim (accessed April 3, 2023).
 United States National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing, Global Positioning System (GPS), “GPS Accuracy,” https://www.gps.gov/systems/gps/performance/accuracy/ (accessed July 8, 2021).
 The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Operational Data Portal, “Syria Regional Refugee Response,” last updated March 23, 2023, https://data.unhcr.org/en/situations/syria (accessed March 28, 2023); see also UNHCR, “Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Turkey” (webpage) [n.d.], https://www.unhcr.org/tr/en/refugees-and-asylum-seekers-in-turkey (accessed March 28, 2023).
 Human Rights Watch, “No One Asked Me Why I Left Afghanistan”: Pushbacks and Deportations of Afghans from Turkey (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2022), https://www.hrw.org/report/2022/11/18/no-one-asked-me-why-i-left-afghanistan/pushbacks-and-deportations-afghans-turkey; “Turkey: Hundreds of Refugees Deported to Syria,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 24, 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/24/turkey-hundreds-refugees-deported-syria.
 Human Rights Watch, “No One Asked Me Why I Left Afghanistan”: Pushbacks and Deportations of Afghans from Turkey.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Hamid, February 16, 2022.
 The Presidency of Migration Management (PMM) reported, as of June 18, 2022, that it was holding nearly 19,000 migration detainees in 30 removal centers. Tweet from the official account of the Turkish Ministry of Interior, Directorate of Migration Management with a hashtag #TürkiyeGöçüYönetiyor, which translates to “Turkey manages migration,” June 18, 2022, https://twitter.com/Gocidaresi/status/1538207228439691266 (accessed August 17, 2022).
 “The duration of administrative detention in removal centres shall not exceed six months. However, in cases where the removal cannot be completed due to the foreigner’s failure of cooperation or providing correct information or documents about their country [of origin], this period may be extended for a maximum of six additional months.” See “Law 6458 on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP),” article 57(3).
 Single men who are not travelling with female family members are in particular routinely mistreated, prevented from accessing procedures to assess their claims for international protection, and deported.
 “Turkey: Hundreds of Refugees Deported to Syria,” Human Rights Watch news release.
 Human Rights Watch, “No One Asked Me Why I Left Afghanistan.”
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Rostam, November 20, 2021.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ramazan, Küçükçekmece, Istanbul, June 7, 2022.
 Bill Frelick (Human Rights Watch), “Why EU can't count on Turkey to protect asylum seekers,” EUObserver, November 17, 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/11/17/why-eu-cant-count-turkey-protect-asylum-seekers.
 “Turkey: Border Guards Kill and Injure Asylum Seekers,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 10, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/10/turkey-border-guards-kill-and-injure-asylum-seekers.
 “Turkey/Syria: Border Guards Shoot, Block Fleeing Syrians,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 3, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/02/03/turkey/syria-border-guards-shoot-block-fleeing-syrians.
 Turkey: Temporary Protection Regulation, October 22, 2014, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/56572fd74.html (accessed March 29, 2023).
 On February 7, 2023, the authorities lifted the travel restriction for about 1.7 million refugees under temporary and international protection in the earthquake region for 90 days, but then cut back the time period to just 60 days. See Human Rights Watch, “Turkey: Suspend Time Limit on Travel Outside Quake Zone,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 22, 2023, https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/03/22/turkey-suspend-time-limit-travel-outside-quake-zone.
 “Turkey Stops Registering Syrian Asylum Seekers,” Human Rights Watch news release, July 16, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/07/16/turkey-stops-registering-syrian-asylum-seekers.
 Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Interior, Presidency of Migration Management, “Mahalle Kapatma Duyurusu hk.,” June 30, 2022, https://www.goc.gov.tr/mahalle-kapatma-duyurusu-hk2 (accessed March 30, 2023).
 “Turkey: Education Barriers for Asylum Seekers,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 31, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/31/turkey-education-barriers-asylum-seekers.
 Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikling/safe_schools_declaration.pdf (accessed January 18, 2023).
 Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_en.pdf (accessed January 18, 2023).
 UN Secretary-General, “Children and Armed Conflict,” S/2022/493, June 23, 2022, para. 291.
 The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), “Safe Schools Declaration Endorsements,” 2023, https://ssd.protectingeducation.org/endorsement/ (accessed March 28, 2023).