Born and raised in Australia, my childhood was the usual story. Middle class family, an assortment of pets in our big backyard, an annoying younger sister and so on. I went to school everyday and afternoons were spent playing some kind of game or sport out in the street with my friends.

When I was 15, I scored my first job. I worked part-time in a supermarket, earning pretty good money for a young kid (although I thought I was rich when I earned 100 bucks in a week) and definitely had no worries finding ways to spend it. Shopping for clothes was on the agenda every single weekend. I had no responsibilities and could spend my hard earned cash however I pleased. Ahh the good old days!

But imagine for a minute that you are a child, who was born in a worn torn country. You have only got two options at this time of your life, both of which are extremely dangerous. Sounds pretty intense, right? Well it is. You have to choose between staying in your homeland, where you have probably lost your home, all of your belongings and also some (if not all) family members. Or you could flee to a foreign land, where you will be exploited in a garment factory and made to work under awful conditions. No child should have to face this decision.

But that is the new reality for many Syrian children.

Shurki is a 12 year old Syrian Kurd who fled to Turkey with his uncle. Now, instead of going to school, he spends 60 hours a week working in a garment factory. Sixty hours a week is an outrageous amount of time for anyone to work, let alone a young child (I complained when I had to work 15 hours a week!). So far, he has been doing this for 10 months, motivated by the need to support his family.

That is a massive responsibility for a kid and the circumstances he finds himself in are unimaginable. But Shurki takes his new life head on, “I can’t go to school here because of work,” he says, “but I will go back to school when we return to Syria.” Despite his current situation, it is heartening to see he is still holding onto the hope, that everything will return to normal one day.

Unfortunately, Shurki’s case is not isolated.

Many Syrian refugee children are being exploited in Turkish garment factories, including those that produce for big name fast fashion brands, such as H&M and Next. According to a report by the Business and Human Rights Centre, a British human rights organisation, businesses such as these admitted to discovering underage Syrian refugees working in factories within their supply chains.

(Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis- http://www.mcclatchydc.com/)

Turkey is one of the leading textile exporters in the world. After China and Bangladesh, Turkey is the biggest supplier of clothing to Europe. Therefore, the chances of you owning a piece of clothing made by a child like Shurki are pretty likely. I’d bet my bottom dollar on it. Just something to keep in mind next time you go shopping (not trying to guilt trip you, just a handy tip).

These kids have no time for playing or to relish the joys of childhood. Instead, they are forced to grow up quickly, confronted every day with situations that any fully grown adult would struggle to deal with.

Now I know for sure, that my childhood wasn’t simply normal or the usual. It was actually pretty freaking amazing and filled with fun. And that’s exactly how it should be for every kid.

Kids forced to flee from war straight to exploitation
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