Negative reactions to a song contest broadcast on TV — in which young children are made to sing and dance in front of millions in the TV audience like adults — are unlikely to cease soon.

Pedagogues and child development specialists say the program is a form of “child abuse” and ask the Ministry of Family and Social Policy to take action to protect children from exploitation on the show “Bir ?ark?s?n Sen” (You are a song), the song contest that is broadcast once a week on the popular ATV channel.

The show is a venue for children aged between 6 and 15 to perform songs that are typically sung by adult stars in Turkey and not those that are more suited to their age. Broadcasters say that the program is not a contest, and it is intended to urge young children who are talented in singing to build their careers.

Pedagogues and child development specialists believe the contest is not suitable for young children and certainly disrupts their physical, spiritual and psychological growth.

Today’s Zaman called the Ministry of Family and Social Policy to learn if its authorities are planning to take sanctions against the ATV’s song contest. However, the ministry left Today’s Zaman’s questions on the issue unanswered.

According to pedagogue Belk?s Ertürk, appearing in a popular TV show may sound charming for children, but it is the duty of adults to protect them against any danger. Ertürk says both their families and the ministry should take the necessary precautions to protect children from the adverse effects of being TV stars. “The Ministry of Family and Social Policy is a newly founded ministry. Its policies [for the protection of children] may not be complete. The ministry may think the issue is an internal matter for families. But it is a matter for the entire country,” she stated.

The song contest was first aired in 2009. The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) issued a warning to ATV about the style and content of the program due to mounting reactions from society, and the program was eventually banned. However, ATV made a few simple changes to the program’s style and started broadcasting it again very recently.

“Children need to entertain. However, it is not right to make them entertain through TV shows. They become popular when they appear on TV and get used to being popular. But they have a trauma when years go by, and they are forgotten by people,” Ertürk added.

In Turkey, young children often appear as singers, albeit not in the professional sense. Attempts to entertain people with young singers began as early as 1980s — at a time when the powerful military worked to engage people’s attention with nonpolitical matters, while it was planning to stage a coup d’état. One such singer was Emrah ?pek, more often known as “Küçük Emrah” (Little Emrah). Another is “Küçük Ceylan,” (Little Ceylan). And in the 1990s, there was “Küçük ?bo,” (Little ?bo), an abbreviation used for the name ?brahim in Turkey.

Psychiatrist Serdar Alparslan thinks that broadcasters of the song contest should be required to seek the permission of a committee of ethics to prepare such a show. “This should be a requirement for all TV programs in which children are performing,” he said. Alparslan also said the appearance of young children in adult costumes and with heavy makeup on TV programs disrupts healthy physical growth in those children. “Forcing children to behave like adults is like torturing them,” he noted.

Currently, there is a campaign for the banning of ATV’s “Bir ?ark?s?n Sen” from broadcasting on the social media in Turkey. Critics of the song contest have set up groups on Twitter and Facebook, including those called “Çocuk ?stismar?na Hay?r” (No to child abuse) and “ATV Çocuk ?stismar?na Son Ver” (ATV, put an end to the abuse of children). The groups have called on authorities, including RTÜK and the Ministry of Family and Social Policy, to take action against the show. The groups have followers already in the hundreds.

For pedagogue Sevil Yavuz, the abuse of children is not solely their abuse sexually or physically. “Use of children for financial gains is also a form of abuse. Such use disrupts their mental health,” she stated. Yavuz also said young contestants in the song contest are made to undergo great stress, which is very hard for them to tolerate. “Children are told to act in certain ways during the program, and they cannot act as themselves. This is a source of huge stress for them.”