A religious advisor, Halil Bilik, was arrested on 20 October for sexually harassing a 12-year-old student in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeastern Urfa (Riha) province, sparking renewed debate over the safety of children in Turkish schools.
Bilik was appointed as a ‘spiritual advisor’ under the project named, “I am Sensitive to my Environment, I Stand Up for my Values” (ÇEDES), a joint initiative by Turkey’s National Education Ministry (MEB), Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) and Youth and Sports Ministry.
Education and Science Workers’ Union (Eğitim Sen) Urfa Branch Co-president Mahmut Binici stated that the ÇEDES project has made schools less secure for children. He emphasised that the protocols under which Bilik was appointed were politically motivated, thereby politicising the education system and disregarding the lives of children.
The ÇEDES project, initially covering only middle schools and religious vocational schools, was expanded in 2023 to include all students, even those in primary schools, prompting calls to ‘keep imams out’ of Turkish schools. Bilik was found to be teaching ‘values education’ in a course on the ‘Life of the Prophet’.
Furthermore, Bilik had an active role under a 2019 protocol between the Diyanet and the Justice Ministry, which allowed him to speak to convicts and detainees in open prisons. He was also involved in ‘idea exchanges’ with the management of Akçakale No.1 Open Prison.
Over the past decade, there has been an increase in similar incidents of child abuse, harassment and rape, Binici noted. He added that families in Urfa are increasingly concerned about their children’s safety, especially given that Asım Sultanoğlu, who was under investigation for child sexual abuse at the Ensar Foundation, was appointed as Urfa’s Director of National Education on 8 August.
“When we look at these two incidents together, the question frequently arises in our minds: Are schools in Urfa really safe spaces for children? We will do everything in our power to ensure that those who commit such acts are not left unpunished. We will follow up on both incidents,” Binici concluded.