Feyat, a day labourer in Turkey who moved to Aydin from Agri ten years ago, is struggling to feed his wife and seven children. His eldest daughter, fourteen-year-old Feray, is the only one of the girls attending school, but she will have nowhere to go at the end of the term since it is the last year of the compulsory period of education. Only one son has completed primary school, while a second will probably not return after his third year. The reason, Feyat says, is that the children's income, earned mostly by picking cotton, is necessary for the family's very survival. His concerns were reaffirmed when he sought advice from the school principal: Feyat just didn't make enough money to support his family, and school was an unaffordable luxury. Apparently, the principal was unaware of the conditional cash transfer (CCT), a government programme aimed at the poorest families as an incentive to sending their children to school.
Sabihe Hanim's family lives in a crumbling whitewashed cement cube-house in the village of Ovaeymir, one of the poorest districts in the province of Aydin. Asked why none of her five daughters was going to school, she gave a series of knee-jerk responses--as a migrant from the southeastern town of Bitlis, she does not speak Turkish. According to Sabihe, her husband who works in construction (when there is work) does not have the money to pay for the additional school expenses. When told that financial help in the form of CCT was available, she said that her family did not want to have contact with any official governmental institutions.
Ozlem, a child of migrant parents from Mus and now living in Manisa, has never been to school. Her mother, who accompanied her to the school for the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF) field visit at the request of the school principal, says that nine-year-old Ozlem is too young to attend. When reminded that the age for compulsory attendance is six, the mother admitted that they were too poor to send their children to school.
The overall impression one gets from these personal accounts is that money is the main obstacle. The reality, however, is much more complex. Although money is definitely a concern for these families, in Feyat's case, their guest living room contains three modest but comfortable sofas with bright new paisley covers; they also own a television set. While Sabihe's desire to maintain a low profile is understandable given the hardships of...