Efforts under way to uphold rights of child actors
Other participants at the workshop emphasised that enforcing any new regulation would be as important as its wording, especially given the high level of informality in the industry, and spoke of the need to communicate strongly and educate the public.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF are backing the efforts of trade unions and other relevant organisations to ensure decent work conditions for the thousands of children who appear in films, advertisements and increasingly-popular television serials each year.
The goal of the ILO Research Project on Children Working in Artistic and Cultural Activities is to facilitate the preparation of a by-law which will regulate the working conditions of child actors aged 0-14 working long hours in harsh and unhygienic conditions. Girls and boys are known to spend twelve hours or more on freezing sets or in smoke-filled studios, with nowhere to rest or play and nobody qualified to take care of them. All too often, parents see these children as a source of income, or dream that they will become rich and famous, but do not realise that they are missing out on school, play and rest. Equally shocking are the psychological consequences of this work, ranging from the intense pressure to succeed to the impact of violent or otherwise disturbing scenarios.
At a workshop in Ankara this week, entertainment industry representatives joined officials from relevant public bodies to debate the initial findings of research conducted by the two international organisations. The research recalls the terms of the relevant ILO conventions, specifically No. 138 on the Minimum Age and 182 on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, examines practices in other countries, and documents the poor conditions in which many child actors are working. It notes that Turkish labour law do not allow children below the age of 15 to work with the exception of “light work” defined by the by-laws of Ministry of Labour and Social Security for those between the ages of 14 and 15. Working conditions of the children under the age of 14 working in cultural and artistic activities remains completely unregulated. Agreement was reached to develop specific recommendations by December.
‘Conditions hardest for children’
“I think this meeting was really important,” commented ŞebnemSönmez, General Secretary of the newly-formed Actors Union of Turkey. “The fact that representatives from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Ministry of National Education, the Radio and Television High Council, Trade union and employers’ confederations, the film industry and the casting sector, as well as producers, actors, drama teachers, directors, academics and lawyers, were all present shows just how sensitive everybody is about this issue. But the important thing will be the final result.”
The Performers’ Union is the most important structure for regulating guaranteeing and inspecting the working conditions of children in artistic and cultural activities. “We set out first of all to correct the working conditions in the sector,” says Ms Sönmez, “And we all know that these conditions are hardest for children”.
“The main problem is with serials and films which take a long time to shoot,” explains MügeUlusoy, Vice President of the Association of Casting Agencies. “As casting agencies we try to protect the children. But not all agencies are members of our Association. Moreover, we are caught in the middle: it is important that children should be insured and that a child development expert should be present on the set, but we are not in a position to write the contracts.”