Turkish Female Child Labour In Domestic Work


Turkish Female Child Labour In Domestic Work
Project Report prepared for ILO/IPEC
1999 Istanbul
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
The aim of the study
Studies on child labor
Data and the plan of the final report:
Adoption According to the Turkish Customary Law
Adoption According to the Islamic Law
Adoption in the Civil Law
Slavery in Turkish Society
Slaves, Servants, and Evlatlıks in Istanbul Households
Evlatlık Institution
Size and Basic Characteristics of the Girl Population
The Field Work
Girls Living with Relatives
Paid Child Servants
Policy Recommendations
APPENDIX 1: The 1885 and 1907 Ottoman Population
APPENDIX 2: Projections for Girl Population In Turkey
Notes on Contributers
The exploitation of child labour in domestic work is not new in
Turkey or elsewhere. On the contrary, it was one of the oldest
traditions in human societies. In the past, their labour was so
valuable that many slaves were indeed children at around 6-7
years old. One of the main aims of child adoption was the need for
an extra labour. Parents have used and abused their children in
domestic work in the name of socialization of them for centuries.
Serious measures to improve situation of children began in most of
the societies during the early 20th century1. Using children in
domestic work did not end at present. We all were indifferent to the
exploitation of children in domestic sphere for a long time. Only
after the early 1990’s Anti Slavery International became actively
interested in the situation of children in domestic work (Black,
1997). So, an old problem finally has become a current issue in
social science research.
The Aim of the Study
The main purpose of this study is to upraise the social
consciousness on this issue by exploring the social and cultural
values, which normalize the abuse of child labour in domestic
sphere. The historical roots of child domestic labour in Turkish
society are analysed with the aim of establishing the link between
the past and the present conditions of children working in domestic
chores. The emerging questions and problems in child domestic
work, which cannot be attributed to the past practices, are
differentiated as well. Ultimately, it is aimed to produce possible
solutions to eradicate the exploitation of child labour in domestic
For example, compulsory education certainly have had a positive impact
on children’s development and have reduced their abuse in domestic
work to a large extend.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Studies on Child Labour
The discussions on the problems of child labour in Turkey confines
mostly to agriculture and urban informal sectors, in which the
visibility of child labour is quite apparent. In agriculture, the use of
child labour concentrates in production of cash crops, such as
cotton, tobacco, tea where the manual labour is vital (Özbay,
1982). Moreover, recent growing interest on hand made rugs let to
an increase of the number of young female weavers in villages
(Ayata, 1987; Berik, 1987). Mechanization of agriculture,
increasing schooling and out-migration from rural areas, on the
other hand, caused an overall decline of child labour in rural areas
(DIE, 1995, Özbay, 1991; Ertürk, 1994).
Child labour is widely used in rapidly developing informal sectors in
urban areas. In recent years, even though number of female child
labour has been increasing in the manufacturing sector and
particularly in the textile industry, males constitute the majority of
total child labour in urban areas (Erder and Lordoğlu, 1993).
Therefore, studies concerning child labour in cities concentrated
mostly on male children.
Practically, no study exists about female child labour in Turkey
working in domestic chores in their own family or engaged in
domestic work as bonded, unpaid or wage labourers2. In fact, a
recent survey research done by the State Institute of Statistics
reveals that female child labour in urban areas is mostly used in
Here, a typology developed by Rodgers and Standing (1981) on child
labour is referred. According to them, child labour in domestic work
covers only those who live with their own family. Other children who work
in domestic work are categorized according to their economic status,
namely unpaid, bonded or wage labourers. Fyfe (1989:22-23) further
developed a typology of child labour. According to his typology, child
labour in domestic work can be categorized in three groups: (1) within the
family (unpaid), (2) with the family but outside the home (eg. assisting the
maid mother), (3) Outside the family.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
domestic work (Bulutay, 1995, DIE, 1995). According to the results
of this survey, while only 1 percent of female children, at ages
between 6 -14, participates in non-domestic work, 35 percent of
them work in domestic chores in urban areas. This survey finding
however does not differentiate the status and the workload of
female child labour used at homes. In fact, it may include children
who contribute very little to the housework in their family, such as
making their own bed or setting the table for dinner etc.
Nevertheless, because they are socialized to their gender role
through these tasks, female children work more than male children
do in domestic chores. Male children who participate in domestic
work in urban areas are only about 5 percent of total male children
at ages between 6-14 (DIE, 1995: 6).
According to Fyfe,
“Domestic duties form part of the socialization process
and cannot, according to ILO, be termed child labour.
But, domestic work as it has been defined, becomes
‘social exploitation’ if it denies children their right to
play, to learn and to enjoy a normal childhood
Fyfe’s definition given above, though was a widely accepted
perspective a decade ago cannot be acknowledged as an
agreeable viewpoint: The above definition implicitly normalizes
child exploitation within family with a silent acceptance of
differential socialization of children in domestic work. Equal
treatment and socialization of children through equal division of
labour at homes is a necessary step toward gender equality.
Therefore, no matter how easy the tasks female children do at
homes, the subject needs an attention.
Female child labour, outside of home is considered as culturally
unacceptable. Whatever they do is identified with prostitution or is
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
in danger of leading to it3. Therefore, their labour preferably is
used in home environments and their work in domestic chores
outside of their primary family either as unpaid, bonded or wage
labourers are often disguised. Such children are referred to as
guests, distant relatives or adopted children - evlatlıks4. Their
labour is legitimized since domestic work is considered a
necessary activity for the socialization of girls.
As Rodgers and Standing point out,
“The employment of children is a complex issue and
despite rapidly growing literature, there are gaps in our
knowledge. Among the crucial, but under-researched
analytical issues, they give the priority to the historical
analyses of the evolution of the child activities through
transitions in the mode of production. Such analyses
are considered essential, particularly in the course of
more rapid and recent development of industrial
capitalism” (1981:40-41).
The above mentioned concern typically defines the aims of the
proposed study.
Data and the Plan of the Final Report
The research has three stages. The legal and cultural norms and
codes about girl domestic labour are studied at the first stage. At
this stage, basically past and present laws about child adoption are
reviewed. As it is explained below, laws on adoption indirectly
Erder & Lordoğlu (1993) point out this as the major problem of female
child workers in industrial sector.
According to the AnaBritanicca Encyclopedia, evlatlık is “a girl or a boy
who is taken to the family in an early age, either with a legal child rights
or not, to care or to use her/his service” (1994:22). As this definition
shows, it is a broad concept referring both to fostered/adopted children as
well as to unpaid domestic servants taken to the house during their
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
define state’s position on bonded and unpaid child labour in
domestic spheres.
At the second stage, a descriptive study on past practices of child
domestic labour is discussed. For that purpose, (a) a textual
analysis of the existing fiction is presented. There are more than a
hundred short stories/novels/memoirs where the lives of domestic
slaves and evlatlıks were described. The majority of these stories
were placed in Istanbul. (b) In-depth interviews with evlatlıks and
with individuals who lived with evlatlıks are collected in Istanbul. (c)
Duben and Behar (1993) transcribed and sampled the 1885 and
1907 Ottoman Population Census Records for Istanbul Muslim
households. Households having domestic workers in these census
records are selected and analysed to understand households
using different types of domestic workers at the beginning of the
study period.
At the third stage, the current situation is the focus. For that
purpose, (a) the latest population census conducted in Turkey (in
1990) is analyzed to show social and demographic characteristics
of girls in the country as well as in Istanbul. Moreover, population
projections are used to show the possible changes in actual and
relative sizes of girl population in the country. (b) 36 in- dept
interviews with children who are working in domestic chores, their
mothers and employers are analyzed. At this stage, the selected
families are interviewed with the purpose of discussing the
problem of their children and formulating alternative solutions to
ameliorate their condition together with the family. Existing
institutional organizations and their practices are studied and
policy recommendations are formulated for female children who
participate to domestic work with different status and work load in
the conclusion.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
There were/are no well-defined rules and regulations on child
domestic labour in the form of real children of the family. Parents
are expected to protect their children, to provide their basic needs
and to socialize them. Children of both sexes have equal rights to
inherit property from their parents. They have to protect and care
their parents in old ages. The state can not directly intervene into
family affairs.
Child domestic labours in households, aside from slavery, have
been in the form of adopted children. Therefore, laws and customs
regarding adoption are important in the discussions of child
domestic labour. In Turkey these laws have radically changed
several times in the past. These laws as well as practices of
adoption and the use of child domestic labour have affected
cultural norms.
Adoption According to the Turkish Customary Law
Caferoğlu shows that the adoption is a very old custom by noting
that it existed among the ancient Turkish tribes. He argues that the
practice of adoption, which generated from the slavery later,
developed as an institution by itself (1939: 99). Adoption in some
tribes is done for humane reasons, whereas in some others,
personal and material benefits are sought. For example, Caferoğlu
notes that among the Yakut5 and the Kirghiz6 peoples, childless
For the Yakut marrying means the perpetuation of the race. Not having
a child is an important defect. The adoption has been considered as an
appropriate way to recompense this familial defect and adopting a child
has been seen as natural. Usually children under ten years are adopted,
because children of these ages would adapt the new family more easily.
Those with daughters but without a son could adopt a child as a son-inlaw. Restricted for the eldest daughters, these evlatlıks would be real
heirs (Caferoğlu, 1939: 105).
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
families practiced adoption and also that high infant mortality
contributed to adoption7. On the other hand, he argues that among
the Uygurs where slave trade is widespread, adoption is based on
personal and material benefits, different from the Yakuts. Among
the Uygurs it is observed that the sons are permanently or
temporarily sold to other families and used in agriculture (1939:
108). However, a male child being sold to another family on a
permanent base obtains all the legal rights of the real son of the
family and his real family then has no rights over him8.
According to Caferoğlu, the adoption customs of the Kirghizes are
the most humane ones among others, for the evlatlık can be a
male or a female child. These children “have share in all affairs of
the family and also have equal rights of inheritance”. Moreover,
“the evlatlıks can not marry a close relative of their new family”
(Caferoğlu, 1939: 108). Caferoğlu draws attention to the usage of
girls as evlatlıks and the verb terbiye vermek (socialization)
together, however he gives no explanation of this latter’s meaning.
Nevertheless, in these societies where male children are employed
in agriculture, it would not be a mistake to think that the girls are
prepared to assume their sexual roles in the houses. Briefly, in the
ancient Turks, whatever the purpose of obtaining, the adopted
Among the Kirghizes, the evlatlık ceremony includes a sacrifice in the
presence of witnesses. What’s more, evlatlık is bound to touch his/her
breast in order to obtain all rights of the real children (Caferoğlu, 1939:
Because of the high rate of infant and child mortality, the Yakuts accept
giving their children to other people for adoption with the purpose of
saving them from death. In that way, families think that they cheat the
bad souls according to Shaman traditions. They prefer to let their real
children become evlatlık instead of seeing them die (Caferoğlu, 1939:
The Soyots also have a similar evlatlık institution, however for the male
children, the vendor and buyer family should belong to the same “Somo”.
It is noted that among the Mongolians, classes belonging to the high
stratum adopt a distant relative as evlatlık (an adopted child) in order not
to be left heirless (1939: 112, note 40).
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
child’s rights of inheritance are equal to those of the real children.
What’s more, in the Kirghiz, the prohibition of marriage with family
members are equally valid for evlatlıks as for the children.
Adoption According to the Islamic Law
The custom of adoption existed in the pre-Islam Arabian
communities. “The evlatlık became the heir for the property of the
adaptors at their death” (Emre, 1981: 134). The prophet, before
the revelation on this issue, had manumitted the male slave Zeyd
who was a present from one of his wives, and adopted him. The
evlatlık thus acquired the name Zeyd bin Muhammed (Zeyd son of
Muhammed) and married to a woman seen as appropriate by his
father, but later divorced from her. After the divorce, for Zeyneb
who was the daughter of the Prophet’s aunt, the only way of
saving her dignity was to marry the Prophet himself. However, as
the evlatlık had equal rights with the real sons according to the old
customs, it would not be appropriate for the Prophet to marry
Zeyneb who was considered as his son’s wife. At that moment
arrived the verse saying that the evlatlıks could not bear the
family’s name and that there would be no prohibition of marriage
with those children9. With this verse, once again Zeyd began to be
Fatma Aliye narrates this event as the following: “Zeyd bin Hârise (Zeyd
son of Hârise) of the Kuzaa tribe has been enslaved as a small child and
sold in Mecca. Hazreti Hatice bought him and gave him to Hz.
Muhammed as a present (Resûl-i Ekrem); he then manumitted and
adopted him, so people began calling him Zeyd bin Muhammed (Zeyd
son of Muhammed) Resûl-i Ekrem helped him to marry Zeyneb, daughter
of Emine bin Abdülmuttalip. But Zeyd bin Hârise was of Arab origin but
not Kureyşi. Kureyşi girls would not consider him as suitable for marriage.
And though Zeyneb (Hz.) personally liked Zeyd, because of the problem
of inequivalence, for Zeyd it was natural to think that he would confront
hostile and arrogant behaviours of Zeyneb’s enemies. Zeyd came one
day to Resûl-i Ekrem complaining from Zeyneb’s arrogant attitudes
generated from her nobility that he would divorce her in order not to
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
called with the name of his real father, Zeyd bin Hârise. Thus,
adoption was legally abolished10. Nevertheless, looking after the
orphans, nourishing them, growing them up and marrying them
have been regarded as a pious act (sevap). What’s more,
polygamy is a recommended means to avoid the orphan girls
falling into misery11. In a way, Islamic law suggests the implication
of “foster family” and marriage institutions instead of adoption. The
reason being that the brought-in child has no legal connection with
the new family12. Therefore, leaving inheritance to the evlatlık
encounter these attitudes of her and to save her from an unsuitable
husband. Resûl-i Ekrem told him he should abandon this idea and fear
God for it was not good to divorce a woman because of that reason.
However if Zeyneb divorced her, then only prophet Muhammed would be
suitable for such an honourable woman. To contemplate her and to
secure her rights the Prophet thought of marrying her but did not say this
explicitly, since in the people’s eyes an evlatlık was believed to be equal
to a real son and marrying his divorced wife would not be appropriate.
The sharia principles regarding this kind of issues had not been revelated
yet. Zeyd, saying that he could no more bare Zeyneb’s arrogant attitudes,
divorced her. After Zeyneb’s iddet (period necessary for her become
suitable for a new marriage) the sharia principles necessary for this issue
were revelated and according to these principles Zeyneb became the
wife of the Prophet. Thus it is ordered that the evlatlık was differentiated
from the real children and that they should belong to their real father’s
lineage. Thereafter, Zeyd bin Muhammed began to be called as Zeyd bin
Sura of Ahzab 4-5 (quoted by Emre, 1981: 135).
“If you fear that you would not be able to treat orphan girls just, then
marry two, three or four women who would be appropriate for you. If you
still fear that you will not be just, then content with one wife.” Sura of Nisa
3 (quoted by Emre, 1981: 82).
“The Islamic religion abolished this custom and the legal relations
concerning it (Tecrit-i Sarih Tercümesi c. 11, p. 290) that’s why, adoption
would not bring real lineage. Therefore, if the adopted child is male, the
person can let him marry his real daughter. If this is a female, he can then
marry her or let her marry his son. The adopter can marry the divorced
family of the adopted child after the iddet (Hukuk-i İslamiye ve Islahat-ı
Fıkhiye Kamusu c. 2, p. 431). As this child would have the status of a
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
within legal ways is very hard13. Briefly, although evlatlık as a term
still existed, the institution of adoption is abolished in the Islamic
law in the legal sense.
The Islamic law also brought significant changes to slave practices
as well to adoption. Manumitting the slaves after a certain working
period and even helping them marry are considered as pious acts
(Kızıltan, 1993: 67-83). The need to treat them in a humane
manner is stressed. Because of these changes, the Islamic law the
“evlatlık” status is brought closer to the slaves than the real
children. However, it is suggested that the non-kin members of the
family (slaves and evlatlıks) should receive a good treatment.
The non-existence of the prohibition of marriage with evlatlıks, and
the necessity for the women to pay attention to their veiling
(tesettür) in the houses sheltering male evlatlıks have contributed
to have predominantly female children as evlatlıks during the
Ottoman and Republican periods. In other words, while among the
ancient Turks evlatlıks consisted mainly of male children, in the
Ottoman and Republican periods they were mostly girls.
It would not be appropriate to give an exact date for the treatment
of adopted daughters as slaves rather than offspring; the reason
being that it is possible to encounter bits of information related to
this practice only after the 19th century.
In Europe, the development of laws and customs concerning
adoption according to its relations with religious rules has
astonishing similarities with Islamic law. Goody tells that adoption
has been a common practice in the classical Roman law, whereas
with the genesis of Christianity the church first issued articles
stranger, the women in the household should be careful for their veiling”
(Emre, 1981: 135).
In the Ottoman period, the “evlatlık vakfs” are considered as the
institutions which make the property owners able to leave their heritage to
other people than their real heirs (Barkan, 1980).
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
restricting the adoption rules, and then totally abolished the legal
foundations of adoption. According to Goody, the church disliked
all the non-kin members in the household, but could only have an
effect on evlatlıks, because adoption is an institution that has its
definition in the laws more than other institutions (1981). The
church obtained the right to seize the properties of the families
without children, and even without male children after the abolition
of inheritance rights of the adopted. Goody argues that in that way,
in the Medieval Europe the church became powerful to a great
extent. In the Occidental world, adoption’s legalisation is quite
recent. USA pioneered in this issue and legalised the adoption in
1851. The European countries, on the other hand, have put laws
concerning adoption into force mostly during the 20th century. The
factor lying behind the legalisation of adoption in the leadership of
Europe is the concern to find a home to the thousands of orphans
after the First World War. Some argue that the 20th century is the
century of children and that the value given to children increased
and their rights defended. These are important facts that
contributed to the legalisation of adoption.
Adoption in the Civil Law
In the Republican period, adoption is legalised with the Civil law of
192614. According to this law, person(s) over 35 years who have
no children can adopt a person 18 years younger than them after
having got a permission from the court and signing an
authenticated contract of the notary public15. Thus, an artificial
lineage is established between the adopter and the adopted. As
the Islamic law does not necessitate a court permission and
signature of an authenticated contract, the adopted can not bear
Articles of the Civil Law related to adoption are articles between 253258.
The minimum age required for adoption was 40 in the first law, but then
was decreased to 35. It is suggested to be decreased to 30 years in the
new propositions.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
the name of the family. Court permission provides the legal
regulation and control of the rights and obligations between
parties, thus is a decision for the child’s favour. It is obvious that
the acceptance of this decision is due to the fact that the evlatlık
taking practices took a form similar to slavery before 1926 and
carries a purpose of preventing these practices. The court judges
are expected to be sure that the child would not be employed as a
servant (Öztan, 1979). The Islamic law had rules concerning the
non-establishment of lineage with adoption that’s why some
articles of the Civil law related to adoption are regulated in the way
that they would not contradict the aforementioned law. The first of
these articles concerns the prohibition of marriage between the
adopted and the adaptor (Cin, 1967). Although the Civil law
prohibits that marriage, in the case when the parties are willing to
marry, it would be enough to cancel the adoption contract
(Saymen, 1948; Öztan, 1979). Moreover, since the lineage is
established only between the parties, legally the adopted can
marry the other members of the family. According to the Islamic
law, the adopted has no inheritance rights (Cin, 1967). Whereas
according to the Civil law, the child is entitled this right along with
his/her inheritance rights from the real family. If the adaptor is not
willing to give the inheritance rights, with a contract prior to the
adoption contract, he/she has to declare that the child would not
be his/her heir (Saymen, 1948). Saymen states that the
differences between the Islamic law and the Civil Law of Turkish
Republic are settled to an important degree (1948). However, in
the 1990’s, the religious circles did not consider this tolerance of
the Civil law as sufficient16.
In 1996, the Directorate of Religious Affairs issued a fatwa declaring
that “the child who has been grown up as evlatlık can be the spouse, but
cannot be the heir of the people who have grown him/her up”. It has been
stressed that adopting someone else’s child was religiously forbidden, but
looking after abandoned and orphan children would be considered as
good by the religion. This fatwa based on Islamic law met reactions and
was later withdrawn by a court decision. (Hürriyet Journal, 1996)
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Aside from the women members of the family, there were basically
three types of domestic labour in Ottoman society: Slaves,
evlatlıks and waged servants. The majority of them were women.
Often they started to work at very early ages; when they were 6–7
years old18. This was particularly true for slaves and evlatlıks.
Again, girls and young women were more among the residential
waged servants than those who did not stay with the family. In this
study, the focus will be on the residential servants, among which
the exploitation of girls’ domestic labour seems to be higher.
The period that I will elucidate this issue broadly covers about a
century. The history of domestic servants in Turkey is deeply
related to the state policies on traditional institutions of slavery and
evlatlık practices. These policies were sensitive about the interests
of different parties rather than revolutionary in nature. The mid 19th
century is taken as the starting point. This corresponds to the
beginning of anti-slavery policies in the Ottoman society. Practice
of having evlatlıks as residential servants was common until the
mid 1960’s. This date corresponds to the abolition of slavery and
slavery like practices in Turkey.
MEAwards supported the detailed analyses and interviews with aged
people on historical aspects of domestic labor.
18 There are numbers of important studies concerning slavery (Toledano,
1994; Erdem, 1993), and on imperial harem where female slaves of the
Ottoman palaces were discussed (Uluçay, 1971; Peirce, 1993). Duben
and Behar (1990) mention the proportion of households having domestic
slaves and servants in Istanbul households in 1907, but they did not
elaborate on this issue. Information about domestic slaves take often
place in memoirs, such as Saz, 1994; Kızıltan, 1993; Adıvar, 1992,
Uşaklıgil, 1981, 1987, or in fiction (Kudret, 1967a; Nabi, 1967). Similarly,
literary fiction is the only source of written information on evlatlıks (See
the section of “fiction” in the References).
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Many people in the country would not know the date of anti-slavery
law in Turkey. Erdem points out that the demise of slavery took
place gradually, without having strong protest movements or
conflicts in society. When the law passed, virtually there were no
more slaves (1996). Considerable amount of studies on Ottoman
slavery exists, but there is hardly any study focus on the history of
domestic servants. Looking at the same historical events from the
perspective of domestic servants reveals that “slavery as an
institution” disappeared, but not “the slavery” itself in domestic
work. It transformed to other practices such as evlatlıks, in which
the nature of the master-slave relation was reproduced19. The antislavery law, passed in 1964, prohibited the use of evlatlıks as
domestic servants too. This practice was already fading away. So,
it cannot be claimed that the prohibition was the main reason of its
Development of capitalism, together with adaptation of western
way of life brought along changes in the nature and organization of
housework. Transformation of the society from basically rural
agrarian structure to urban, industrial one initiated mass labour
migration from rural to urban areas; wars, political unrest and the
present globalization of labour accelerated the mobilization of
masses. The impact of all these changes were significant on the
emergence of new forms of domestic servants.
Slavery in Turkish Society
Ottomans abolished the slave markets with the pressure of
Europeans, particularly of the British government, as the first step
to the prohibition of the slavery in 1846 (Toledano, 1994). Ubicini
claims that the use of domestic slaves slowed down after this
prohibition even though he did not give evidence for it (1998).
This argument was mentioned before by several writers, see for
example, Neyzi, 1985.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Slave trade continued in the informal sector long after the ban of
slave markets. In fact, former slave dealers complained about the
injustice and illegality of slave trade mostly done by women in their
homes. Toledano computed the number of slaves, black and
white, who were imported to the Empire, excluding Egypt, at
11,000 – 13,000 per annum for the third quarter of the nineteenth
century and he estimated it around 10,000 per annum for most of
the 19th century (Erdem, 1996: 55). The majority of them were girls
or young women who were used as domestic slaves. There were
many fermans (Imperial edicts) and irades (sanctions) against
slave trade which finally culminated in the passing of a formal law
against the black slave trade in 1889, a similar one against the
white slave trade in 1908 (Erdem, 1996: xx). Erdem stresses the
fact that the Ottomans never dared to abolish slavery, since it
would be against Şeriat and would disturb the existing social order,
but only took some measures to end its trade. The ban of black
slave trade was stricter as to satisfy British government. The
serious measures taken to end the import of black slaves to the
country was effective. In return, British government did not insist
seriously for the abolition of white slave trade.
Mass immigration of the Circassians to the Empire after the
Crimean war in 1857 and onwards, was an important turning point
of the Ottoman policy toward white slave trade. They put serious
restrictions to end the Circassian slave trade as well. According
Şen, with this mass migration reappraisal of slave trade was
witness (1994). Existence of a hereditary slave cast among
Circassians, loss of control by the chiefs, desire of parents to
secure a better life for their children and themselves, and poverty
were given by Erdem as the reasons of continuos supply of
Circassian slaves to the Ottoman lands. These were not seen as
an issue by the Ottomans provided that slaves were imported
(1996:48). But after this mass immigration these activities were
seen as threatening for social order. Poor immigrants were selling
their own daughters or relatives in order to survive, by claiming
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
that they were born as slaves20. Ottomans started to give away
orphans to the families as evlatlıks in order to restrict their sale as
slaves (Şen, 1994). Distribution of female orphans to the families
for the purpose of their protection became a policy afterwards. This
policy may be effective in restricting slave trade, but it let to a
custom of using evlatlıks as domestic servants. I will discuss this
issue later at length.
There were some novels where slaves runaway from their
master’s home claiming that the slavery was ended anyhow21.
Erdem documents such cases by using the judicial archival data
(1996). Despite this evidence, domestic slaves in Ottoman society
persisted through out the 19th century and until the abolition of
Şeriat in the Republican period in 1926. Slavery lost its legal
grounds by accepting civil law, but a special law for the abolition of
slavery was not passed during the early years of Turkish Republic.
In Ottoman social history the institution of slavery was not
presented as a “real” exploitation. On the contrary, by comparing
western tradition of slavery, humane relations between the master
and the slave was over-emphasized22 Manumission of slaves after
nine years of service was a merit (Erdem, 1996). However, it
would not be beneficial for a female slave since she could not find
a job and a house. Therefore, manumission through an arranged
marriage (çırak etmek) was the custom. Those who did not marry
Topuz mentions about the disastrous conditions of these migrants and
how they were bought as slaves in his recent book about the life story of
his grand mother, Meyyale (1998). “..helpless poor (biçare) and orphans
were living in the courtyard of Nusretiye Camii in Tophane.. “ A
conversation between the mother of a one-year girl and a woman who
wanted to buy the baby is told: “how can a mother sell her baby? But, her
father died in the war. I do not know how to take care of these three
children. You seem to be a good woman. I won’t bargain with you on the
money but take good care of my baby..” (Topuz, 1998:24).
See for example, Samipaşazade, 1978.
Lately, Timur seriously criticised this perspective (1991).
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
or became widows would have a right to stay in the master’s
house all their lives. The lucky ones (!) even can marry with their
masters or their sons (Parlatır, 1992). Moreover, it is believed that
if slaves had some problems, they had during the period of
capturing and travelling. Survivors would live much better life than
their place of origin since they live mostly in affluent households.
Slave dealer clean, fed and train small children in order to sell
them with a good price in formal or informal markets. They thought
them how to read and write, in addition to various skills of
entertainment, such as playing an instrument, singing, dancing etc.
An ordinary middle class woman in Istanbul could not get such a
special training (Goodwin, 1998). Slaves had a right to complaint
about their master’s misbehaviour to Kadı (to the court).
The negative aspects of slavery could best be find in Fermans.
Illicit sexual intercourse with the slave girls was the major problem
of many of them. Exploitation of their domestic labour is mentioned
specifically with respect to the black slaves (Parlatır, 1992). It was
a custom to buy a slave girl as young as possible, yet when their
life were told in the fiction, they were presented often as adults,
young or old. We know very little about their childhood
Slaves, Servants and Evlatlıks in Istanbul Households: 18851907
In this section, an analysis of five percent sample of the 1885 and
1907 Ottoman censuses covering only Muslim population in
Istanbul is presented. Data include slaves, servants, evlatlıks and
those relations to the household head are unknown. The latter are
selectively included if there were some clues that they were
slaves, servants or evlatlıks. All of them are called as the non-kin
members of households. We assume that these non-kin members
constitute different forms of domestic servants. Further
methodological explanation about the data is given in Appendix 1.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
The proportion of domestic servants did not radically changed
between 1885 and 1907. In both dates about 18-19 percent of the
Istanbul households had domestic servants (see Table 1). Duben
and Behar (1990) estimated this number as 8%. The difference
between their and our estimations stems from the differences of
emphasis. They were not particularly interested with domestic
servants. Therefore, probably did not make any correction on the
data concerning individuals with an “unknown” relation to the head.
Secondly, they might have included evlatlıks as kin, whereas here
they all are categorised as non-kin, and are all assumed to be
domestic servants. Among evlatlıks some of them, especially boys,
might be truly treated like “adopted children” rather than servants.
Hence, our estimation might have an upward bias in estimating the
total proportion of domestic servants in Ottoman households. On
the other hand, their estimation seems to carry a downward bias
as well.
Our categorization helps to compare the changing proportions of
slaves, servants, and evlatlıks between these two census dates.
Such a comparison reveals important points, and overall, it
supports the qualitative information presented earlier.
The number of households with domestic servants was
considerably high in Istanbul even at the beginning of this century
(Table 1). However, the number of residential servants per
household was not large in 1885 as well as in 1907. The mean
number of servants, including the unknowns, was 2.3 and declined
slightly to 1.7 between 1885 and 1907. There were a few
households having more than ten residential servants in both
censuses. An overall decline in slave use might be the reason of
this rather modest number of servants per household by the end of
the 19th century. The small number of servants used by notably
high proportion of Muslim households indicates that not only elites,
but also middle class households had residential servants in the
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Table 1
The Non-Kin Members of Muslim Households in Ottoman Istanbul
Households Percent of Total
Number of Having
Households Number of
Households Non-Kin
Members Non-Kin
Mean # of
Source: The five-percent sample of the Istanbul Muslim
Households in the 1885 and 1907 Census Rosters.
In Table 2 some characteristics of domestic servants are
presented. These simple percentages support the general picture I
draw about history of domestic servants. The majority of them
were females in both censuses. Slaves were in the majority in
1885 (58%), but this percentage declined sharply to 21% by 1907.
Whereas waged servants doubled, and evlatlıks tripled within this
22 years. These figures clearly support the changing nature of
domestic servants at the turn of the century. In both dates, girls
and young women constituted almost about a half of the total
domestic servants. Older ones were probably started to work at
their early ages as well.
Place of origin of the domestic servants are grouped into six
categories: the native-borns, Istanbulites were mostly among the
waged servants. Their proportion increased within the given
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
period. Those coming from northern region include Circassian,
Caucasian, and Crimean. They were often registered as slaves.
However, among the “unknowns” there are some Circassian as
well. Decline in their proportion is consistent with the overall
decline of slaves. The third category covers slaves too, but those
who were coming from the South, namely from Arabia, Africa,
Sudan, Tripoli, and Ethiopia. Similar declining trend is observed
among them as well. Note that the second category covers white,
and the third category covers black slaves. As expected, the
proportion of black slaves was smaller than the white ones in both
censuses. A radical increase is observed in the fourth category
among those coming from different regions of Anatolia. They were
evlatlıks, unknowns and waged servants. Those coming from
Europe are categorised as the fifth group. In 1885 they were
coming from former Ottoman periphery, such as Bosnia, Philippe,
Salonika, Crete etc. No Western Europeans were observed among
them. They were mostly waged servants and unknowns.
In general, information about the place of origin of domestic
servants was ambiguous. Households tended to register white
slaves as from “Çerkezistan”, and black slaves as from
“Arabistan”. It was more difficult to guess the place of origin of an
evlatlık or a waged servant. The last category of place of origin
unknown covers mostly them. In general, those coming from the
north and the south declined from 63% to 20%, while others
increased from 37% to 80% in 1885 and 1907, respectively.
Evlatlık Institution
As slavery was fading away in Ottoman tradition, the number of
live-in servants and of evlatlıks increased. At the turn of the
century, evlatlıks were rare as compared to live-in servants and
slaves, and hence they had somewhat higher status. One of the
stories of Gürpınar, which was first published in 1901, was about a
servant who migrated from Balkan. She was pretty and literate.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
The housemistress announced that she would have her as an
evlatlık, so that her husband would hesitate to have a sexual affair
with this pretty servant (1995). However, these examples also
indicate that the differences among slaves and evlatlıks were so
negligible that the terms could be used interchangeably.
In Ottoman Islamic culture the term evlatlık has been used to cover
almost all children in the household who did not have blood
relations with the head, but live under his protection. For example,
stepchildren were also called evlatlıks. If a slave child were
favoured, (s)he would be called evlatlık as well. A slave child who
was called evlatlık would certainly have a higher social status than
being just a domestic slave (eg. halayık)23. It meant that (s)he was
considered as one of “us”, as “the daughter of the house”.
Although Islamic law forbade legal adoption, in practice evlatlık
institution was used to overrule this restriction. Barkan mentions
that families could also overrule inheritance rules through using
private wakf arrangements (1980).
Having evlatlıks as domestic servants was closer to the practice of
domestic slaves. Firstly, both of these practices were based on
unpaid labour and were allowed by Islamic law. Slaves and
evlatlıks shared similar advantages and disadvantages in front of
the Law: family members could marry with them, and they did not
have inheritance rights. These two criteria were put to differentiate
evlatlıks from legally adopted children.
There are no reliable data on evlatlıks before the 19th century. We
do not know if it was widely used practice or not. Neither
Kınalızade nor Ubicini specified evlatlıks as a special form of
servants. Despite the norms about the good intentions in having
evlatlıks, fiction writers increasingly criticised this institution as
being misused Islamic charity throughout the 20th century.
For example, in one of the short stories of Uşaklıgil written in 1900, the
good intentions of the master to the slave girl are mentioned in terms of
his considering her as an evlatlık (1967:21).
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Table 2
Characteristics of Non-Kin Members of Muslim Istanbul
Types of Non-Kin
Waged Servants
Unknown Relative
Age Groups
Less than 6
50 and more
Place of Origin
North (Circassian)
South (African)
East (Anatolian)
West (European)
Source: The five-percent sample of the Istanbul Muslim Households in
the 1885 and 1907 Census Rosters.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
As mentioned above, distribution of girl orphans to the families by
the state was first witness during the influx of Circassian
immigrants in the 1860’s. This became a strategy of the state
during the war years. Karabekir, who was the chief commander of
the army in the east, during the War of Independence mentions
that girl orphans were distributed to the families, while boys were
raised in the army and in boarding schools during these upheaval
years (1995). Duru confirms Karabekir, by telling that the
orphanages in Anatolia were closed and children were sent to
Istanbul by train in 1922. However, on the station, most of the
children were taken by Armenians claiming that they were
Armenian orphans (Duru, 1960). Aside from these two written
materials, in an informal interview, it was stated that girl orphans
were gathered on the station, families came and selected them to
use as evlatlıks. No matter how good intention had the state, mass
distribution of girls as free servants to the middle class families
certainly had an impact on the degeneration of evlatlık institution.
Füruzan tells about a girl given as evlatlık in her short story entitled
“Haraç”: The 10-year-old girl who was given as evlatlık to a
mansion at Horhor in 1916 and whose name was converted from
Hacer to Servet was brought from a village of Erzincan. Her
mother does not approve letting her daughter go and says:
“…I don’t give my child. Even if she is nude and
hungry. She would rather die here than live a rich life
with strangers. Where does this whole thing of carrying
girls to Istanbul come from? I don’t care about its
money.” (1971: 123)
But apparently she could not persuade the men. The woman is
surrounded with lots of children of all ages. The man who takes the
girl to the mansion leaves her at the court of entrance and runs
Aziz Nesin by telling about the story of his mother who was born in
the Andaç village of Ordu in 1900 shows that this kind of practices
are not to be seen only in large mansions of Istanbul. Her mother
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
had given birth to another girl and because of this her father
married a second wife and he is always outside of the village for
work. The villagers pitied little Hanife who suffered from her
stepmother. Already “all men have been gone to the army, the
village is being threatened by death and poverty” (1975: 60). One
of the elders of the village had learnt that the port-chief, the navy
commander was looking for an evlatlık. He proposes Hanife’s
father to give her. “…the mother of Hanife cried and cried; the
pressure of the second wife was already unbearable, nobody knew
where her Hanife has been taken to, to whom she has been given
to… (that’s why) she leaves her husband as well as her village and
starts living in another village” After many years the stepmother
would say to Nesin that she had “never wanted to give her as
evlatlık and said to the child’s father to go get her” (1975: 61), but
that the child did not come along and run away to hide at that
house (1975). Nesin would not learn that his mother’s real name
was Hanife and not İkbal until her funeral.
The practice of having evlatlıks has become an institution during
the first half of the 20th century. A set of positive and negative
norms was developed about their characteristics and treatment in
middle class households. During the interviews, too, the
interviewees stressed the fact that the evlatlık institution was a
widespread practice. The following is told by a 88-year-old woman
and is very illuminating:
“Until 1940s the evlatlık institution was very common
especially in Istanbul and Ankara. Although now it
seems very unpleasant to me, then in every house
there was one (or more) evlatlık(s). While I felt very
sorry for these little girls and wanted to see that
tradition come to an end, there was nothing wrong for
my mother to have a girl in the house to help her in the
housework. The poor people coming from the villages,
especially from the Rumeli villages (after the exchange
of populations) sold their children to the wealthy
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
families. Little girls were working in every house: in
ours, in my friends’, in my relatives’…”
Initially many evlatlıks were either war orphans or poor migrant
children. Therefore they were often dirty and had lice. A common
cleaning practice developed as an initiation of these girls to the
family. They were washed in boiling water. All their clothes were
burned. Their hair was cut very short and soaked with gasoline to
prevent from lice. In fiction this process often has given in
detailed24. Sometimes the girl is washed and dressed by her real
family before sending her to the family as an evlatlık (Bener,
1994). Nevertheless she cannot avoid having these cleaning
processes, which in a sense is a kind of an initiation of her new
They forced evlatlıks to wear some old fashioned clothes, which
radically differentiate them from the actual children in the family.
Physically they are not only different from the rest of the family
members but also are not attractive young girls at all. Some of the
fiction writers commented that they looked like clowns (Ulunay,
1995; Füruzan, 1993; Celal, 1991; Kutlu, 1986).
These children are often taken to the families when they are 6-7
years old. At first, they do nothing, but play with younger children
of the family. They may be in charge of some but not heavy duties
as well such as washing dishes, running to the grocery, comforting
the master or the mistress such as doing massages, washing their
feet, serving coffee or tea etc. (Füruzan, 1993; Bener, 1994)
Vüs’at O. Bener describes the evlatlık in the house from the mouth of
the daughter of the house as the following: “My hair is soft, Havva’s hair
is like felt. My mother razed her hair twice in order to make her have long
hair, but her hair did not get longer, her hair always remained short. Her
nose too is very ugly! It’s flat and looks like the nose of the monkey on
our schoolbooks. I don’t like her at all. Filthy, thief!” (Bener, 1993: 72).
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Somehow, many of them do not like to get educated. In fiction they
sometimes were sent to school, but girls drop out soon (Anday,
1992; Güntekin, 1995). Often family never thought of sending them
to school. If they show a sign of eagerness to get education,
housemistress or her daughter teaches them to read and write at
When they get 12-13 years old, they start to take more
responsibilities. Control over their time and body increase at this
stage. A common belief, which was spelled out in fiction as well as
in interviews that these girls are not “normal” sexually. They were
very skilful finding men to flirt outside of the family and seduce
men in the family as well (Güntekin, 1995; Neyzi, 1985; Madra,
1991). In fiction the male members of the family, old or young
sometimes rape them. They marry off her with someone outside of
the family circle if she became pregnant (Tanpınar, 1967; Kutlu,
1986). Many evlatlıks run away with men with low socioeconomic
status instead of waiting for their arranged marriage. In fact, often
the marriage promise and the guarantee bridal gifts were largely
delayed by the families (Esenbel, 1982).
As they get older, the tension between the girl and the family
increases. She wants to demand some spare time for herself,
wants to go to the movies, to the park, to outside, or wants to have
friends. These demands were often considered “immoral” or
examples of “misbehaviour” of evlatlıks. One informant told that it
was very difficult to keep her home and therefore conflict and
violence never ended.
Evlatlıks were institutionalized form of bonded labourers. Their
birth certificates were kept by the foster family in return some
amount of money were paid to their parents (Güntekin, 1995).
They had to work without having time to play, to get education or
to rest during their childhood and in some cases until they get old.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
However, there were exceptions; in some families, evlatlıks were
treated like adopted children. They enjoyed similar rights of other
children in the family. Love and affection was given. They were
sent to school and arranged good marriages for them with valuable
bridal gifts. Even in these households, evlatlıks were supposed to
do domestic work, simply because they were trained to be good
housekeepers. This last point differs them from slaves and
residential servants. Housework is seen like a job or an occupation
for the latter whereas for the formers it was often considered as a
part of their socialization.
A 90-year-old interviewee who loved her evlatlık very much
showed how warm a relation could be established through this
“…the very night she arrived we had tickets for the
movie…we took her along as soon as she came…she
was left with her tiny package in the hand…how glad
she was about the movie!…I didn’t wash her that
day… we went to the cinema, how could I wash… the
following day I prepared warm water and washed
her…I bought her clothes, shoes, other things, I
dressed her very well, very clean…she had
extraordinarily nice hair, her face was beautiful. She
had such big eyes… If I could find a photo of her to
show you… From the day she arrived, we didn’t leave
her eat anywhere else than our table. No question of
eating separately. Whatever we eat, she will be at the
table. She called grandpa as grandpa and myself as
aunt, all is OK. What for would she call me mistress,
do I look like a mistress? She said “alright” to
everything I told her… I taught her everything slowly,
and she said “alright”, always “alright”… She got used
to the housework. She made perfect dishes, perfect
cakes, still she does. She had interest in everything,
but I made a mistake… If it had been today, I would
have let her get education. She was very clever. But I
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
couldn’t think of it… Now she missed it. I could have
sent her to school then… But she had a problem, she
wanted to get our family name. (And what happened
then?) I made her marry with my husband’s brother’s
In sum, the use of female child labour in domestic work in the form
of adoptive child or bonded labour has a long tradition in Turkey.
This institutionalized form of female child labour emerged with the
prohibition of slave trade in the Ottoman Empire in the second half
of the nineteenth century. Therefore, beside the differences, there
are also similarities as concern the treatment of domestic slaves
and evlatlıks. The spread of evlatlık practice is also related to the
protection of orphans and poor children. Therefore, they were
treated like adopted children in some households as well. Evlatlıks
were neither slave nor adopted children, but were treated as both
slaves and adopted children. This paradoxical treatment of them
makes this institution unique during the Republican period.
In order to eradicate female child exploitation in domestic work, it
is very important to initiate public discussions on this institution.
Because, the use of female children as unpaid labourer in
domestic work did not absolutely disappear, but transformed to
various different arrangements. Through these changes the
traditional name, evlatlık, has been dropped as well. Today, it is
common to suggest to those who are in need of domestic help, but
do not have any other support system, such as, adult relatives or
paid servants, “to take a girl”. The term “taking a girl” replaces the
old term of “taking an evlatlık” with fewer obligations from the
foster family side, ie. They do not have to prepare a dowry and
marry her with someone nor they have to keep the girl lifetime.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
The operational definition of a “girl child” covers a rather large
range of ages; between 6 to 18. Those above age 15 are taken,
because they may have started to work earlier. The study focuses
on never married girls only, and the study area is Istanbul. In
Istanbul the households are extremely heterogeneous in terms of
social, cultural and economic status therefore, variations in female
child labour in domestic work is found there.
Size and Basic Characteristics of the Girl Population
Demographic transition from high rates of fertility and mortality to
lower levels started in the 1950’s in Turkey. During this period,
fertility (TFR) declined from 7.5 children to 2.3 children. Mortality
transition took place earlier, resulting high rates of population
growth up until the recent decades. Population growth rate was as
high as 2.8 percent per year in the196o’s, whereas in the latest
census in 1990, it dropped to 1.6 percent per year (SIS, 1995).
According to the projections Turkish population will soon reach to
replacement level (NRR=1). The recent experience of
demographic transition affected to the age structure of the
population. High proportions of children under age 15 are
declining, population at productive ages (ie. 20-54) are increasing.
In the future, an increase in old aged population is expected.
State Institute of Statistics prepared four alternative population
projections for Turkey (SIS, 1995). The two extreme projections
are used to give an idea about the actual and relative sizes of the
girl population in the country (see Appendix 2: Tables A - 1 and A 2). Note that population projections refer to 7-17 years of age,
rather than 6-18 years, as it was originally planned for this study.
Recent changes in age structure have an impact on the relative
size of the girls at ages 7-17. In Appendix 2, in Table A-1 and
Table A-2, future changes of actual and relative sizes of girl
population in Turkey are presented. In 1998, there are little over
seven millions girls at ages between 7-17 in Turkey and their
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
number will not radically change in the near future. Their
proportion among the total female population is around 22%, and it
will slightly decline to 20% by the year 2005. In other words, one
out of five women in Turkey are at these ages. The proportion of
girls in total population is about 11% in 1998 and this proportion
will slightly decline to ten percent in the near future and most
probably will stabilize at this level.
Demographically it may be claimed that in the future, child labour
in domestic work will not radically change in numbers if no
measures were taken to eradicate it. They may increasingly be
used in care of old aged people rather than in child-care, since the
major shift is from a “young” to an “old” population in the country.
No similar projections exist on the study area, Istanbul. The results
of the latest Census of 1990 are presented in Table 2. In Istanbul
the proportion of girls at these ages was slightly less than the
nation-wide figures. However, Istanbul is a rapidly growing
province due to migration. Therefore, the proportion of girls might
have even increased since 1990.
Table 3
Girl Population in Istanbul, 1990
Number of
Percent of Total
Subtotal (7-17)
Female total
Total Population
Age Groups
Source: SIS, 1993: 23.
Percent of
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Due to different age categorization, characteristics of girls living in
Istanbul cannot be given for the whole age group, but for those at
ages 12-14. This age group is important for several reasons:
Officially, questions regarding economic activity and marital status
include this age group. In labour statistics, this age group
represents the “child labour”25. In short, officially the state admits
that child labour existed in society, but confined only to 12-14
years old children. Age 12 corresponds broadly the age of
completion of five years of primary school. Until this year (1998)
five years of primary school was compulsory. This year
compulsory education increased to eight years. Primary school
and junior high school are grouped together as “basic education”.
The impact of this change on child labour will be observed in the
During the fieldwork, this age group is found to be the modal age
for child domestic labour as well. There were few children younger
than 12 and their parents did not allow us to do the interview. It
may be claimed that in Istanbul, children under age 12 are not
widely used in domestic work or even if they were, it was not a
socially accepted practice.
Table 4 indicates that early marriage among 12-14 years of girls in
Turkey is not common at all. More than 99% of them were single in
1990. Among the illiterates however, this proportion declines to
96%. In other words, if all girls had literacy, early marriages would
not exist in the country.
About two thirds of girls were going to school in 1990. This is
rather a low percentage at this age. Little over ten percent of the
girl population at ages 12-14 were registered as “active” in 1990
census, and 21% were said to be “housewives”. It may be
In demographic studies they represent the “child marriage”, “child
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
assumed that almost all “housewives” were involved in domestic
work. As it became clear in our research that those who attend
school were not necessarily free from child-care and housework
activities either.
Table 4
Marital Status, Educational Attainment and Labour Force
Participation of Girls at Ages between 12-14 in Istanbul
Educational Attainment by Marital Status
The last
primary school
junior high
Participation to Economic Activity
Source: SIS, 1993:80,96
Note: Unknowns are excluded from the calculations.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
The Field Work
The fieldwork on child domestic workers in Istanbul was conducted
in 1996-1997. Total of 36 interviews was conducted with children,
their mother and employers. Basically three groups of children
were targeted in the field: (a) daughters, (b) relatives, (c) outsiders.
The last two groups are further divided into two as paid and
During the fieldwork various methods are used to locate these
targeted girls. Some institutions, such as Children Foundation,
Protection of Children and Their Environment Foundation,
Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Association, UNICEF, Girls
Orphanage, Labour and Employment Office, private labour and
employment firms, primary schools in low-income districts were
visited and asked their collaboration. None of them could help us
to locate girls. Labour and employment firms insistently claimed
that they do not find jobs to young girls (whereas during the
fieldwork we found out that some firms are involved in finding jobs
to these girls).
Snowball technique is used after having one or two interviews.
That is, we asked if informants knew other girls working in
domestic work. Friends and students helped locating some of
these girls. These networks seem to be very successful.
Furthermore, it is assumed that a girl relative or a daughter who
are involved housework heavily are mostly in lower-middle class
households where the mothers or adult female relative are
working. Previous surveys done on women in informal sector are
used to select several districts such as Küçükbakkalköy, Gültepe,
Çeliktepe, Kartal, Feriköy, Gaziosmanpaşa, where these types of
households are known to be clustered. Other districts such as
Kurtuluş, Suadiye, Gayretttepe, Ulus were selected to find out
residential girl servants. Interviewers asked if muhtars (district
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
officers) and apartment gate keepers in such districts knew such
households where girls were working.
At the first stage of the fieldwork, a short form is prepared to scan
households. The interviewers filled about forty forms where they
found girls who said to be working in domestic chores26. They were
younger than 18 years old and started to work before age 15 and
all were unmarried. There were so many refusals. Approximately in
one out of fifty households, interviewers were able to fill the
scanning form.
The refusals were mostly from the employers of paid labourers.
Only through the networks of friends and students such girls were
interviewed. We observe working girls in the parks, in fast-food
restaurants, in private swimming pools together with small
children. Their outfit, behaviour to the children or conversation with
adult women gives away their identity even without talking. In Ulus,
for example, a district where the well-to-do families live in private
housing complexes, households with small children have young
(12-15 years old) maids. We could not convince them for an
interview at the scanning stage.
The research team contacted with the households affirmed to have
girls working in domestic chores during the scanning stage for an
in-dept interview. Some of these households refused to have an
interview for the second time. The majority of the refusals at this
stage were those girls who stay with their relatives. An example for
a refusal is given below:
Refusal type 1
Ö.G. stays with her grandmother (father side),
grandfather, uncle, uncle’s wife and his small son in
Küçükbakkalköy. Her family is also in Istanbul living in
The scanning was done with the collaboration of Trio Research Firm.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
another district, Pendik. She is 14 years old and helps
her grandmother in doing housework and child-care,
since her uncle’s wife is working. During the second
visit her grandmother said that she does not want to
talk to us. Some of these girls were not found after the
Refusal type 2
8 years old C.Ö. stays with her father and grandmother
in Feriköy. She helps to her grandmother in
housework. Her parents were divorced. During the
second contact, she was gone; her mother took her.
These cases are chosen to indicate how mobile could the girls be
in helping domestic work and hence, how invisible they are. As it
will be exemplified below, permanent work is rare, especially
among those who were working in their relative’s houses.
Nevertheless we were able visit some households selected from
the scanning forms. A set of Interview guideline forms is prepared
for the girls, their employer, and their mothers.
In some of the households, they did not allow tape recording.
Many of them were suspicious about the aim of the study. One
mother commented that
“Why are you interested with girls doing housework?
Isn’t it natural that all girls do housework at home? ”
At the first day of the fieldwork we (with two of my assistants)
visited a family composed of a father, a mother and five daughters
ages between 14-2027. None of them went to formal school and all
The mother said that they have two more daughters younger than
these girls. They were staying in Fethiye, a small town in the south, with
their aunts. She first said that her daughters were going to school there.
But later, she said that their aunt has a lot of work to do (agricultural
production). The girls were helping their aunt there. I suspected that
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
said to be involved in domestic work! The case was interesting
methodologically. Therefore I want to discuss it in this section:
Case 1
The mother accepted the interview because she was
very keen on bringing up her daughters as ideal
housewives. The first question she asked was “Şartlar
nedir?” (What are the requirements?) Somehow she
thought that there would be a contest among young
girls on good housekeeping! The oldest girl who was
told to be too old for this research did not come out,
but watch us talking from a distance. She definitely
was upset. The others who are younger than 18,
compete to each other in showing their knitting, and
talking about how skilful they are in cooking and
cleaning. They served us tea and home made pastries,
different kinds were said to be cooked by different
daughters. The most prestigious one was the youngest
girl during our visit: She was the only one under age
1528. Her sisters complimented that she is very good in
knitting and start to cook as well. The family was very
religious. Girls did not go out of their house alone. Only
during the special days they visited some of their
relatives in the city together with their parents. They
were all exited about our visit. Because they said they
did not have a chance to see people except few
Do we consider these girls abused by their family in domestic
work? The answer to this question is not an easy one. There were
these girls were having a special (illegal) religious training rather than
going to formal schools.
Interviewers during the scanning stage particularly sought for girls
under age 15.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
six women in the house doing domestic work. So, no one was over
burdened. Since they could not go out, housework was like a
hobby for them. Domestic work was a substitute of a school or a
work. It was a life style. On the other hand, they were kept at home
like prisoners, did not have a chance to get educated, and
engaged in domestic work at early ages simply because of their
gender. Are we doing a research on the ideology of domesticity or
on its manifestation as abusing child’s labour? What is the limit of
our sensitivity?
This case is not considered as the subject of the ongoing study,
however, it certainly cleared our minds that the study focuses only
on the top of the iceberg – girls who are overloaded with domestic
work. However, policy recommendations must include altering the
ideology of domesticity. Because girls were treated unfairly as
compared to their peers even if they were not exhausted with
housework and care of family members.
Girls who were involved in domestic work, whether as daughters of
the house or as outsiders shared some common problems and/or
privileges, but first, I present these cases separately to point out
the differences among them. Differences among them show
distinct dimensions of the problem. In other words, even though
the work they were involved was similar, girls’ perception about
themselves, their treatment by the members was considerably
Daughters who are in charge of domestic work in their own family
were almost all from the households where the mother was absent
or working. This simply indicates that domestic work was seen as
a part of femaleness in these households. Gender roles were more
effective than parent-child roles. There were one-parent families
without mothers, unemployed fathers and working mothers, or both
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
parents working families, and hence men sometimes were
available for taking some responsibilities of the housework. The
idea of men doing domestic work was unacceptable by women
and girls. I would like to give some examples from the field:
Case 2
Kadriye was a 13 years old Gipsy girl. She finished
primary school, then did not want to go to school
afterwards. She said, “I get bored in school”. She
worked in a “factory” (a workshop on metal work) for a
short term. She did not want to work there either. So,
she said she was happy at home. All the women in her
family sold flowers on the streets of Istanbul. They
often had problems with the police, since they did not
have work permit. Men did not work regularly (may be
they were watching their wives not to get in trouble),
but they bought the flowers from the retail shop.
Kadriye’s mother worked “from 8:00 -9:00 in the
morning to 9:00-10:00 at night”. (But, since she was
self-employed, she might not go to work if there were a
problem in the house). Kadriye had a brother (10) and
a sister (5). Her aunt was living downstairs. Her
daughter (6) was in care of Kadriye too, since the aunt
was working during the day. She did all the
housework, cooking, cleaning and caring for the
youngsters. Another aunt living close to them left her
baby (7 months) to Kadriye when she went to work as
well. (This aunt gave some money to her in return).
Neither the father nor the brother helped Kadriye
during the day. She said her father “bought the bread
during the evenings, and fruits sometimes”. Did he do
housework? With an astonishing smile she said:
“Nooo…(giggles) he does not take a cup of water from
here to there.. he would never do housework in his
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
life.. Besides.. My mother wouldn’t let him to do.. she
doesn’t like such things.. besides now he is not very
healthy.. ” Apparently, doing housework brought her a
status at home. Kadriye said her father liked her
cooking. He did not let her work in the factory even
though her grandmother push her to do paid work. “He
says Kadriye is doing housework.. this responsibility is
enough for her.. we do not need the money she would
earn..” In fact, she spends the money she earns from
her aunt as she pleases.
She told that she did not mind doing housework,
because she was independent. Her friends visited her
home in the afternoons, or she could go in front of the
door to chat with neighbours. She listen music while
working and did whatever she wanted to do at home.
Case 3
Like Kadriye, Saniye (14 years old) was in charge of
the housework and child-care at home. Her father was
unemployed, her mother worked as a cleaning lady.
Her father didn’t take any responsibility at home either.
She gave an excuse for that “.. he is not healthy.. he
cannot carry heavy things!”.
Saniye was going to school at the same time. So, she
did not have a spare time to chat with neighbours or
friends. She worked and studied. She was lonely, but
she said she was not unhappy. She was proud that
she could manage to do all these responsibilities. That
made her an important member of the family. She was
a good student and determined to study further. Her
mother encouraged her to get education.
Case 4
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Gülcan (14 years old) was not as lucky as Saniye. She
was a very good student in primary school, but could
not continue, since her mother and her two older
sisters were working and she had to take care of her
sick (mentally) sister at home. Her aunt was looking
after her sister when she was in primary school, but
she started to work as well. Gülcan’s parents were
divorced, and her father remarried. Gülcan had a
brother who was in the military service. She was doing
the cleaning and cooking too. She said housework did
not bother her, taking care of the sister was. Her
mother was fed up with her care, so she preferred to
work outside. Gülcan said after a while she had to stay
at home and let Gülcan work outside. Working outside
was the second best alternative for her. She was so
unhappy that she had to drop the school. She claimed
those who continue to school looks down upon them
I will give one last example among the “daughters” category that
she is in charge of housework and child-care in their own house to
show the variation in the attitudes of girls toward schooling and
Case 5
Fatma (15) is the second oldest daughter of a family
living in K. Armutlu, a gecekondu area nearby one of
the richest districts of Istanbul. The family has five
daughters, the youngest one is 4 years old, and the
oldest one is 17. The mother is working as a cleaning
lady. She has about a dozen houses to clean every
week, works hard, and earns more than other cleaning
ladies. The father is working as a bodyguard in
nightclubs. He goes to work in the evenings, so he is
at home during the day. However, frequently he either
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
goes to a jail or to a hospital for one or two weeks. The
family accepts this routine as a negative aspect of his
job. He is different from the many men in his class. He
keeps eye on the small children, feed them, play with
them when he is around. The oldest daughter goes to
school and a very successful student. She used to do
most of the cleaning and cooking tasks as well.
However, recently she found a part time (white-collar)
job. She has a very powerful position at home. Fatma
“helps” her older sister in housework too. She just
graduated from a junior high school, and plans not to
go to high school but “to become a housewife”. She
says that she now is old enough to take care of the
domestic work by herself. She is ready to take her
oldest sister position at home. Her parents however,
want her to pursue her education in a vocational
school. Fatma got seriously upset when the family
members argued that they did not need her labour in
domestic work! So, she had to go to school. The family
even though needed money, never thought of sending
her to work outside. The mother told me that she did
not want her daughters to work in domestic service as
she was. They had to go to school in order to find a
“white collar” job.
Fatma was not selected in our research until her
mother asked my help in this family problem29. I visited
their house twice to interview and to convince Fatma to
pursue her education. She kept crying in the first
meeting and said that she never got attention of their
parents no matter how hard she worked at home. She
claimed that she was the one who put a lot of time and
care to her youngest sister. No one acknowledged her
domestic labour. She was not as good as her older
I heard about this family through my own cleaning lady.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
sister in school. So she could not compete with her in
this area either. She told that the money her parents
would spend on her schooling was a waste. I finally
convinced her to register a vocational high school,
went to school together and paid the registration fee.
Here I particularly choose the cases where schooling, working
outside and domestic work for girls were alternative options.
Depending on the familial conditions one or the other was
considered better for the girl. In all cases girls were aware of the
fact that domestic work at home brings relative social status to
them in the family environment.
I have interviewed the three out of four mothers in these case
studies– I did not see Gülcan’s mother. These girls were
substituting their mother at home. Women were expressing
paradoxical feelings toward their daughters’ ”help” in domestic
work: they were proud that their daughter could successfully
manage the housework and child-care; at the same time they were
feeling some what “guilty” letting girls do their own responsibility. A
tension between the mother and the daughter was clear. Fatma’s
and Saniye’s mother tried to reduce this tension by encouraging
girls to continue their education. Kadriye’s mother on the other
hand, did not see education as a real option, in her case her
daughter was safe and happy since she did not work outside.
Fathers became important decision-makers on girls’ plan to work
outside. For example, Kadriye was very proud of her father that he
did not let her work outside – for cash. This was considered a
protection of a daughter. Domestic work, as the informants told
their story, consciously or unconsciously was an important
obstacle for schooling and child development.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Girls Living with Relatives
A cleaning lady who became pregnant told me that she planned to
bring a girl relative from their village to care for the new born baby.
The girl was deaf and needed an operation. The cleaning lady was
planning to bring her Istanbul, to pay the operational costs and in
return to ask her to stay with them for the child-care and
housework while she was out working until the girl becomes at a
marriage age. I do not know if she did her plans. May be it was just
a dream, but nevertheless for lower class women who need help in
child-care and domestic work, almost only alternative is a female
relative if she did not have a daughter above age 10.
Why do girls live in their relative’s house? They may not have
parents. In this study, girls in this category were not orphans. They
had families, but they often were poorer than their relatives. This
by itself was a factor affecting the lower position of girls in these
households. Some came to Istanbul to get education, but some
others came to help to the housework and child-care.
It may be a way of chain migration for those coming mostly from
the eastern provinces. The other members would come after the
pioneer had settled and had a “success” in city life. In earlier
studies on migration such cases were exemplified in details for the
young boys (Erder, 1996). Similar motives are observed among
the girl migration, which is relatively a new phenomenon. Do
relatives start to prefer girls to boys if both were going to school or
to work? It is difficult to give an answer to this question with a
limited data at hand. The following case study is about such a girl
who came to her relative’s house to get education.
Case 6
Ayla was 15, migrated from the eastern part of the
country and started to live with her aunt in Istanbul.
She was going to a high school. Ayla’s family had nine
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
children and lived in the village; they were very poor.
Her aunt said that she wanted to help them, so first
she took Ayla with her to give her a proper education
in the city. Recently, older sister of Ayla also joined to
the household. The older sister was working and
bringing cash money to the household. They
occasionally send money to the village as well. So,
they manage to survive and let her get educated. The
story from Ayla’s part is somewhat different: the aunt
was a housewife and had a baby. Ayla was in a
boarding school in their hometown. Her father decided
to send her to Istanbul when her aunt had a baby.
While going to school, and studying at home, she was
helping to her aunt in domestic work as well. Her
contribution to the housework was limited, such as
preparing the breakfast, washing dishes, and helping
her aunt in house cleaning during the weekends. She
did not complain about the workload and said the
housework in the village was more difficult since it
included taking care of the animals as well. Ayla was
the most educated member of the family. She was a
Kurdish girl, learnt Turkish in school, and wanted to be
a Turkish teacher in the future. Her father wanted her
to become a lawyer.
Some other girls were not as lucky as Ayla. They were particularly
brought to the relative’s house from the village for a help to
domestic work.
Case 7
14 years old Fadime came to the house of uncle’s son
in Istanbul from the eastern Turkey a year ago. She
was Kurdish too and was learning Turkish. She did not
have a chance to get education, because there were
no teacher in her village. Her family was very poor in
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
the village, whereas her cousin and his wife were both
working in “white collar” jobs. They had a 13 months
old baby. The former paid nanny asked an increase in
her salary. So they decided to have Fadime instead. In
return to her service, the cousin sent 20 million TL. per
month to her family in the village. Fadime was not very
good in housekeeping and child-care, she told us that
she did her best, but was basically unhappy because
there were nobody around her to talk during the day,
because she could not adjust to the new life style.
When she came to her cousin’s house for the first
time, they cut her hair because lice infested her. She
did not cut her hair in her life before, its length was
about a meter. Instead of her old village cloths and
headscarf, they bought her outfits proper for the girls
living around. In the first interview, she was not happy
with her new look either and desperately wanted to go
back to her village.
Fadime was like a “modern evlatlık” in her cousin’s
house. Her physical outlook was changed. Her new
identity was not as degrading as in the earlier evlatlıks,
on the contrary, evlatlıks in the past were dressed to
look different from the rest of the family members.
Whereas this family wanted to give a middle class city
girl image to Fadime as they themselves were.
However, they treated her more like a paid-maid than
a relative or a daughter. She did not gain a special
status in the house because she was doing domestic
work. On the contrary, because she was doing
domestic work, she had a lower status.
In our sample, girls staying with their relatives – including Fadimedid not really were exhausted with work load as much as those
working in their own family. Yet, they were not as independent and
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
as happy as the daughters who were responsible for domestic
work of their own household.
Paid Child Servants
It is not surprising to find that paid child servants were in higher
social-economic status groups than the other girls. Some of them
were living in a luxury; going to the resort areas with the family
once or twice a year, nice outfits good food etc. But, none of them
were happy about their position and life. They worked much harder
than those who lived with their relatives or with their own families.
They were not specifically complaining about the workload, but all
of them mentioned that they were like prisoners. Huriye who came
to the house when she was 13 and worked for about eight years,
mostly complained about the 12 years old boy who almost tortured
her by kicking, beating or simply ordering one thing and reversing
his order immediately after she gave what he wanted. The younger
girls did not give detailed maltreatment examples. The mother of
another girl, Sıdıka, said that because she broke a plate, her
former employers locked her up in the kitchen for a day. So, she
was taken from this house. Nazlı, politely mentioned that they did
not like her to eat extras when she was alone at home during the
Again the girls did not mention sexual harassment directly, but by
the adults. One of the employers mentioned that her husband
often petted the ass of the girl, or kicked her, but the girl liked this
kind of treatment, she liked him more than her. The same girl
complained about the housemistress:
“..she did not want her husband to know that I cooked
the dinner, because he would make compliments to
me rather than to her”.
They did not complain about the housework. Often they were
proud about themselves in talking about cleaning, washing,
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
cooking. Number of them commented that “It is easy, there are
machines”. When it was probed some accepted that could not go
to bed in time when the guests came in the evenings.
Almost all of them were hired principally to care for child(ren). Girls
are not particularly finding this task “easy”. “It requires a lot of
responsibility,” one said. They were taking care of mostly small
boys, who were active and spoiled. Was it just a coincidence that
we found girl domestic workers always taking care of small boys?
Since the research covered a small number of cases it is
impossible to generalize, it seems that mothers having sons need
more help from others than those having daughters.
Girls who were paid worked hard, but they had limited tasks as
compared to those who work in their own family. None of them had
a right to make plans for cooking or shopping, they could not invite
guests to the house, or went out without the permission of the
house mistress. If the employer were working, they had to call and
ask permission to do certain activities, and particularly for going
out. The controversy was that they were expected to work like an
adult, but to live like a child!
Some girls were from Istanbul. They had work experiences even
though their ages were at most 15. Some worked in textile
workshops, before they worked at homes as domestic servants.
Nazlı was one of them.
Case 8
14 years of old Nazlı was a Kurdish girl who was born
in Istanbul. She finished primary school. She wanted to
continue, but had to earn money: her father was sick
and unemployed, her mother was a housewife, taking
care of four other siblings at home. She worked in a
textile workshop for six months, could not get her wage
because the workshop had a bankrupt. She accepted
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
the offer of the employer that she would pay Nazlı if
she stayed with them and looked after her son (6-7
years old). She said, “I accepted the offer to get some
of my earned money”! She got 20 million TL. per
month for being a maid, she has given all of that to her
mother. She was more like a “worker” rather than a
small girl. She said “my job starts at 9.00 in the
morning. I go to bed after I wash the dishes at night.
but if there were guest.. of course I had to stay till at
midnight or even later”. As compared to factory work,
being a maid was boring for Nazlı because during the
day there were nobody to talk. She was not planning to
stay in this job for a long time. Nazlı quit her job soon
after this interview. Some volunteers collect 20 million
TL: per month for her family. She is back to school
Those who attend to school worked in domestic services
sometimes as a part time employee, mostly during the summer
Case 9
Yayla (12) was one of these part-time employees in
domestic work. Their neighbour, who had a newly born
baby in addition to two small sons, worked in her
house as a “fortune teller” asked her mother if she
stayed with them during the summer. She mostly took
care of children when their mother was busy, washed
the dishes, and helped her in house cleaning.
This is a custom in the southern cities where well to do families go to
their summerhouses and have “a girl” from nearby villages to care for the
small children and housework. I am told that the village girls were happy
with this part time work. They save their money for their marriage
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Yayla’s mother was a housewife, had seven children.
Her father was a retired worker. The oldest son was in
his military service. The second oldest son was
working as an apprentice. 14 years old sister of Yayla
who “became a housewife” after primary school helped
her mother. If Yayla did not have an older sister, she
probably could not go to junior high school.
Paid girl servants we interviewed were not illiterate but always
made a comment that they did not get education “okumadım”. This
shows that they take primary school education for granted. As is
seen in the statistics given above, the overwhelming majority of
girls had a primary school diploma at ages between 12-14 years
old. In fact, they often start working after they graduated from a
primary school. Being able to go beyond primary school was seen
as a status symbol for some girls (see Case 4). They all made
comment that they wished they attended junior high school instead
of working as a domestic servant. Nuriye too wanted to get higher
education, but she had to work. Her story gives us information
about their inner world, dreams, expectations as well as inevitable
consequences of poverty:
Case 10
Nuriye was 17 when she was interviewed, but started
to work earlier. This was her second house. She
resigned from the first one because of highly spoiled
boys she had to look after. She said that her employer
cried when she declared that she was quitting and got
angry with her sons, “but, I could not stand any more“
she said. Her family lived in a small town near by
Istanbul. She visited them once in a while, but not too
often. As she told her story we learnt that they were
poor and unhappy. Fighting with each other, going to
jail, moving from one town to another.. full of family
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
tragedies.. They are from a large family as well: nine
children ranging between 19 years old to 2 months
old31. Except those under 12, they all were working.
None of them pursue their education after primary
school. Nuriye said that she was very eager to attend
junior high. Her aunt promised that she would support
her. But, her uncle met a family who wanted to have a
live-in girl servant. First he offered his own daughter,
they did not like her. Then he offered Nuriye. So, she
started to work. Again when she resigned and went
back to her family, her uncle found her this place. Did
she want to work? NO! She wanted to go to school.
Nuriye wrote poems and had a diary. Her poems were
basically dealt with love addressed to one of the
popular singers. She read some of them. Loneliness,
helplessness, sadness, longing for affection were
major themes. She had a flirt in her hometown, not a
serious one, she wanted to get engaged, but she did
not want to get married and had children soon. She
wanted to go out with her fiancee. Nuriye went out to
concerts, super markets, resort areas together with her
employers. She have met some girls like her among
the friends of her employer, and remembered that she
was out alone twice to go to the grocery within two
years. In general, she did not complain about her life.
But, when it was probed the things she liked about the
house she worked as compared to her own house.
She said “nothing... I wouldn’t miss a single thing
here”. Whereas, her employer commented they liked
her very much, she was like a daughter of the house.
She was obedient, hard working, and well mannered.
If we did not know the low level of fertility in Turkey, we would have a
totally different perspective about the fertility level of the country through
these case studies.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
One of the employers categorized girl servants into two groups:
those coming from the villages and those from the city. The latter
were spoiled and useless she said, because they asked an
increase to their salary all the time, they want to have a day off
every week, and frequently complained about not being able to
have their own time.. they were never fully integrated with the
family. They worked at most one or two years.. they learned things
and they left.. According to her it was a waste of time to get a girl
from Istanbul. Whereas those coming from the villages were
obedient, they did not see their family frequently, and knew the
importance of being “trained” in such a house. So, eventually they
became like a member of the family. They were like “evlatlıks” of
the past.
In our small research project we also found two different types of
employers: housewives and working mothers. Housewives who
hired residential girl servants were aware of the past practices of
evlatlıks. They treat girls in similar manner, but they were less
reluctant to arrange marriage for them. The actual family always
had the last word when the marriage of these girls was the
Working mothers treat these girls more like a paid servant. These
women for some reason lost/rejected their traditional female
support system. No mothers or mother-in-lows were around. Some
of them hired live-in girl servants as permanent babysitters. Their
children would go to child-care centers, during the day, they might
have a cleaning lady once a week in addition to the girl in the
house. But, they could go out at nights without thinking of a baby
sitter, School children would safely be at home until their parents
came home etc.
Some others could not afford to have an adult nanny, or to send
their children to child-care centers, so they had “girls” who are the
cheapest solution to child-care. They do not consider the
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
relationship a permanent one. Actually, some of them complained
that these girls did not stay more than two-three months.
The practice of using child labour in domestic work has a long
history. In addition to using their own children, Turkish families had
a tradition of using female child labour at homes in the forms of
slaves and evlatlıks. Wide spread use of domestic slavery in
Ottoman society certainly added to the legitimisation of using child
labour in domestic chores. Evlatlıks were like adopted daughters
who did not have legal rights of actual children. Restriction of legal
adoption in Islamic law, let families abuse particularly orphans’
labour at homes.
Slaves and evlatlıks persisted in Turkish society for a long time. At
the beginning of this century, domestic slaves started to diminish,
and evlatlıks substituted the institution of slavery. A comparison of
1885-1907 Ottoman censuses for Muslim households reveals this
shift clearly.
Evlatlık institution developed partly because of the demise of
slavery, but also because of the emerging large numbers of
orphans due to the series of wars, epidemics, poverty, forced and
voluntary population movements. Protection of orphans became
an important issue for the state and families during the first part of
the 20th century. The overwhelming numbers of poor orphans were
taken to the households as evlatlıks. Poor peasants began to sell
their daughters as a survival strategy. These practices continued
without any prohibition until 1964.
Transformation of Turkish society from basically an agrarian to an
industrial one, and related changes in social structure eventually
ended “traditional” practices of child labour. But, cultural values
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
about using child labour in domestic tasks still prevail. Though their
number is not large any longer, there are households who bought
small girls as evlatlıks to use in domestic work. They prefer to
obtain these girls directly from the villages.
Aside from this traditional form of child domestic labour, new forms
emerged: rural migrants from the eastern provinces appear to be
the major part of child domestic labour in Istanbul in the 1990’s.
They either stay with their relatives and work in domestic activities
in their house, or became wage domestic worker. They do not give
long years of service as was/is the case of evlatlıks. On the
contrary, turn over rate must be very high that during the fieldwork,
our informants have changed their place frequently.
As compared to the past, housework became easier with the
advancement of household technology and food industry.
Therefore, girls in the sample did not specifically complain about
the workload of housework. The research project itself may create
a bias here as well. Our young informants were so proud that we
interviewed them on domestic work. Their complain were basically
on (a) not being able to continue their education, (b) boredom in
the house and not being able to have friends, boy friends, (c) not
having spare time for themselves and recreation, (d) child-care
responsibilities, (e) degrading and problematic relations mostly
with male children at homes.
Those who worked as unpaid labour were either the daughters or
relatives of the households. Some of the relatives were treated like
maids, and were paid as well. Their wage was extremely low, it
varied between 5-20 million TL. per month. Almost none of them
were able to use their earnings for themselves. The money directly
went to the parents of these paid workers.
During the interviews with adults (with mothers and employers) the
problems of these girls were discussed. They basically were
concerned about chastity and sexual honour of the girls. Only
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
some mothers or relatives, but none of the employers were keen
about girl’s education. None of the adults worried about the
psychological development of these children. The prevalence of
patriarchal values was quite apparent within almost all of these
There are some changes in the conditions of child domestic labour
in the past and present. Girls starting ages to domestic work
appeared to increase from 6-7 years old to 12-14 years old. While
in the past girls were in mostly large households, housemistresses
or mothers were at homes. Nowadays, often working mothers and
employers use child domestic labour. Hence, girls have to take
serious responsibilities all by themselves. Moreover, they are left
unprotected since adult females are not around during the day.
Loneliness and not being together with their peer groups certainly
affect their psychological development.
This study did not intend to investigate the present and future size
of child domestic labour in Turkey. Recent structural changes in
society will have both a positive and a negative impact on the
number of child domestic labour. Therefore, conscious measures
to eradicate child domestic labour are important. Before a
discussion on the possible policy recommendations for that end,
socioeconomic and demographic factors affecting to their size will
shortly reviewed:
Factors affecting to its demise can be summarized as follows:
Demographic transition.
(a) Fertility decline has a twofold impact, while it
reduces the number of potential child domestic
labour, it also have a negative impact on the
need for child domestic labour,
(b) Mortality decline especially among the adults
lessens the proportion of orphans, and
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
consequently the proportion of children for
protection declines.
(c) Recent changes in age composition of the
population have a negative impact on child
domestic labour as well. The proportion of
young adults increases. They compete with
each other in the labour market. The
disadvantageous groups among the youth (20
years old and over) also apply jobs available for
children in domestic work. Abundance of
cleaning ladies, adult nannies is alternatives for
child domestic labour even today. If labour
market opportunities did not increase as much
as the growing number of young women, they
would either stay at home and become
“housewives”, or could lower their wage in
domestic work to compete with girls.
Development of educational opportunities
Educational opportunities particularly at the
primary school level, delayed girl’s age at
entry to domestic work. Earlier, slaves and
evlatlıks were taken at ages 6-7, whereas
we hardly find child domestic workers below
age 11 at present.
The new law on eight years of compulsory
education may have a negative impact on
the use of girls in domestic work
Changing value of children: Economic value of children
declined and their psychological value increased. This shift
affected even the poor families. This trend will seem to
continue in the future as well.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Increased proportion of upper and upper-middle class
families lessen the employment of child domestic labour in
particularly housework activities.
There are factors, which encourages the use of child domestic
labour as well:
Demographic factors
Old aged people, especially aged women, will increase in
actual numbers as well as proportionally. The need of
domestic child labour to take care of old and sick members
of households will increase.
Regional inequalities let to produce
Large number of uneducated girls, limited employment
opportunities, increased poverty, and accelerated mass
migration from the eastern provinces to the western ones.
All of these will elevate child domestic labour.
Female employment in urban areas in the west, and
particularly in Istanbul, is increasing whether because of
advancement in female education or increasing poverty
and unemployment among men. As was demonstrated in
this research, female employment is an important factor
affecting child domestic labour.
Policy Recommendations
In our research the impact of ideology of domesticity and gender
roles are found to be the most important factor for the persistence
of child abuse in domestic work. Therefore, public training to alter
this ideology is an utmost important policy. Formal schools adult
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
education programs and mass media must all be used for this
The use and abuse of child domestic labour is a social problem.
Initial training programs for parents, teachers, and journalists must
be organized. However, as we know the ideology is not only
reproduced within the family institution, but in other social
institutions as well. Institutions, such as workers unions, political
parties, and the military contribute to the reproduction of
masculinity. Therefore, at the second stage public training must
fucus on men in these institutions.
The impact of new educational policy, ie. eight years of
compulsory education on child domestic labour could be twofold: if
it were closely followed, many girls can be saved from being
domestic workers. However, dropouts may increase since they will
not get a diploma after five years, but after eight years now. More
boarding schools and fellowships at that level are necessary to
establish eight years of compulsory education and save girls from
the domestic duties.
Community centers in low-income districts must be opened where
free or cheap care for small children of working mothers could be
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
The 1885 And 1907 Ottoman Population Censuses
Behar and Duben selected the sample for their own study on
Istanbul Households (1990). They kindly let me to use the
transcribed rosters in Latin alphabet. Households having domestic
servants, slaves, evlatlıks were chosen from this sample and the
analysis was carried on only with these selected households.
There were some members added to the rosters after the census
dates of 1885 or 1907. These individuals are not included to the
Data have some defects particularly for the analysis of domestic
servants. Domestic slaves and servants who live in dependencies
of large konaks (mansions) were sometimes registered as
separate households. In the sample, if all the members were
domestic servants/slaves it is impossible to judge whether they
were living in a dependency of a konak or not. These cases were
necessarily excluded. They certainly brought a downward bias to
the estimation of domestic servants.
Domestic servants were the least important members of the
households. Therefore, sometimes information about them is not
complete or correct. In the five- percent sample, there are
considerable amount of individuals whose relation to the head was
missing. We included some of them in our analysis if we found
some clues that they were slaves, servants or evlatlıks. For
example, their place of origin as compared to the rest of the family
members (eg. Africa), father’s and mother’s name (in the case of
slaves it was Abdullah and Havva), titles (eg. zenciye Zehra –
negro Zehra), their place in the listing (eg. at the end or among the
other slaves) are used to judge about their position in the
households. Some were redefined as slaves, servants and
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Some individuals were registered simply as “a relative” (akraba,
yakın). If there were no clues about their relationship with the rest
of the household members (eg. place of origin), we consider them
non-kin as well. Few of them were redefined as slaves, servants
and evlatlıks. If their position was not obvious, they are included as
a separate category, “unknown relative”. Note that no matter how
carefully these judgements were done, additional bias is
introduced with such corrections.
Despite the defects, the data reveal important information about
the changes in practice of domestic servants. In the rosters,
relation to the head information was given in details, eg. evlad-ı
maneviye, besleme, cariye, kalfa, hizmetçi, aşçı etc. Today we
cannot find such detailed definitions of non-kin members of
households in census records. In fact, as compared to the 1885
census, wording of non-kin terms was more ambiguous in 1907.
For example, the term hizmetkar (servant) is often used to refer
the slaves and the term cariye (concubine) was not used at all.
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Projections For Girl Population In Turkey 1990-2005
Table A-1:
Population Projections of Girls in Turkey
(Alternative 1: NRR=1 in 2000, no migration)
N (‘000)
18 +
Total Males 28,475
Grand Total 56,204
Percent of Total Female Population
18 +
Percent of Total Population (both sexes)
18 +
Source: SIS, 1995: 117
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Table A-2
Population Projections of Girls in Turkey
(Alternative 2M: NRR=1 in 2005, with migration)
N (‘000)
18 +
Total Female
Total Males
Grand Total
Percent of Total Female Population
18 +
Total Female
Percent of Total Population (both sexes)
18 +
Total Female
Source: SIS, 1995: 123
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
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F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
Notes on Contributers
I would like to thank everybody who have contributed with high
intellect and effort to finalise this project. Without the initial
encouragement and help of Aylin Göker, the former IPEC officer in
Ankara, this research could not be done. The author has a
gratitude to the present IPEC officer Şule Çağlar for her
understanding of the problems encountered during the project
period. Zehra Toska, the representative of WLIC Foundation, have
always been very cooperative and encouraging. Cem Behar, and
Jak Kamhi generously shared the problems I have faced during
the project and offered valuable comments on the manuscript.
Several assistants have contributions to this project. I particularly
thank to Gül Ersan, Defne Suman, Hülya Tufan, Zeynep
Türkyılmaz, and Bediz Yılmaz.
About the Author
Ferhunde Özbay is a professor in the Department of Sociology, at
Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. She is editor of Women, Family and
Social Change in Turkey (UNESCO, Bangkok, 1990) and Küresel
Pazar Açısından Kadın Emeği ve İstihdamı – Türkiye Örneği
(KKSGM, İKGV, Istanbul, 1998) (from the global market
perspective women’s labor and employment in Turkey). She
published articles on gender, social history and demography. Her
latest article is “Gendered Space: A New Look at Turkish
Modernisation” in Gender & History (Blackwell, Oxford, 1999 11(3):
About the Responsible Institution
The Women’s Library and Information Center Foundation (WCLIC)
aim at collecting all works written by and/or on women was
founded in 1990. The library collects manuscripts, audio-visual
F. Özbay – Child Domestic Labour in Turkey
documents, books, periodicals from Ottoman period on. The library
has more than 5,000 books, about 200 periodicals in Ottoman
script, Turkish and foreign languages and a rich collection of
articles on women’s studies as well as vertical files of
ephermeralflyers, newspaper cuttings, leaflets, pamphlets etc.
arranged in subject biography and organization. The WLIC
Foundation also organizing conferences, panel discussions,
exhibitions on topics related to women. The WLIC foundation
informs the members about these events and a new acquisition
through quarterly published “Newsletter” since 1992. The WLIC
Foundation has launched several research projects on women and
made number of publications.

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