As in any society, in Iran, children are the most vulnerable members of society. It is the duty of a civil society to protect and nurture young life. Most societies do this through enforceable laws that are meant to set societal standards for the treatment of children, as well as provide enforcement measures when those societal standards are breached. These standards are usually conceived as “rights.” When a child’s rights are abrogated, they are considered vulnerable to additional poor outcomes and social predations.
However, despite being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children don’t in reality have any rights in Iran: the rights of a child are given to his/her parents. If a child is being abused by anyone, it’s rare to get attention unless the parents claim that someone is abusing the child. If a parent is abusive, there are simply no laws to protect the child against the parent. Many children die each year in Iran because of the abuse of their parents and what makes the situation worse is the fact that women don’t have any rights to defend their children nor themselves against abusive fathers and in many cases against other abusers.
In this page, we cover some of the broader categories of child vulnerability in the Iranian context.
Street Children and Orphans
Contrary to the common definition of the word “orphan”, Iranian orphans and street children are often not without living parents. The parents of many street children are drug addicts. Others are jobless immigrants or refugees, and still others give birth to numerous children simply to exploit them for work.
Street children live in abandoned buildings, containers, automobiles, parks, or on the street itself. The children who sleep on cardboard on the sidewalks, in parks, or in vacant and dilapidated buildings are often considered luckier than those who remain at home with exploitative parents.
Determining the numbers of street children and orphans in Iran is a virtual impossibility. Suffice it to say that they number in the thousands. In a 2005 report by the U.S. State Department, by the Iranian government’s own admission, 60,000 street children were accounted for in Iran. Numerous child rights organizations suspect that the number is substantially higher, citing figures of 200,000 or more. Of this number, about 55 percent are the children of Afghan refugees. A majority of the remaining street children are the offspring of mixed-nationality families, single parents or gypsies. While statistics report between 25,000 and 30,000 children who are forced to live and work in the streets and sweatshops of the city, Tehran is not the only place where children suffer the indignities of homelessness. Again, according to a government official, Mashad is home to the second largest number of street children. Official statistics recorded 647 street children in that city; however that number appears to be astonishingly low as well.
The atrocities visited upon these children are myriad and are in direct conflict with the Convention for the Rights of Children. Article 20 calls for children who cannot be looked after by their own family to have a right to special care and states that they must be looked after properly, by people who respect their ethnic group, religion, culture and language. Article 22 states that “Children have the right to special protection and help if they are refugees (if they have been forced to leave their home and live in another country),” as well as all the rights in this Convention; Article 32 calls for government protection for children from work that is dangerous or might harm their health or their education. It further states that “children’s work should not jeopardize any of their other rights, including the right to education, or the right to relaxation and play.”
From The Bridge, Issue #8, p21:
Is there a single person here to ask why the children in one of the southern inner cities of Tehran have gone missing for months one after the other with no one to look for them? At last they are never found or even if they are found they are not a child anymore… Has anyone ever searched for these children? Does anyone ask why these children that are kidnapped, lost, missing or any other word that you might want to describe them by whichc might be more respectful, when found, are no longer a normal child? In fact they are a pulp of a child?
“Here, at least two children go missing every month, and almost every time we get no result even when searching for them,” Majid, a member of the board of directors of the Organization for the Protection of Children’s Rights tell us this shocking news. “There has never been a proper decision made to stop this situation in this area.” It seems those responsible for children’s affairs and budgets prefer to ignore such an important issue. They think it will be fixed as time goes by or forgotten after a while.
(continued from The Bridge, Issue #8, p21):
Farhad Moradi, child rights activist, provides a more economic analysis of the problem of child kidnapping in the region. In his opinion this part of the economic cycle in the region is known as the criminal economy and it’s much wider than we realize, therefore it cannot be dealt with easily or without responsible government agencies. Moradi explains: “Major and often hidden economy in this region’s economy is in such criminal gangs dealing with drugs or gangs causing corruption and even gangs selling organs. The gangs often use children for the distribution of drugs. The area has a major player and many subsets, and the final subset are the children who are kidnapped. They are used to distribute drugs around the city. Unfortunately, custodian institutions around the city are not paying attention to such an important issue, therefore many angles of this matter remain hidden. As far as we’re concerned, we have not seen the government authorities come up with solutions for this problem or find out the cause of kidnappings in this area.”
These rights are certainly not granted to the vulnerable in Iran. Smaller children often are put together with older ones and taken in a group to places throughout Tehran, including the wealthier northern districts, to collect money from passers-by. If they don’t collect enough, they are punished. The adults who exploit these children often train them for criminal activities, including selling illegal drugs and alcohol or providing them to others for sexual activities.
An unofficial report concludes that 60 percent of all homeless girls have been victims of sexual abuse within the first week of leaving home. The Committee for the Rights of the Child concludes that working children, street children and children who lack complete personal documentation, have reduced access to schools. According to the Iranian government’s own statistics, in Tehran alone there were more than 30 criminal gangs who made use of these children. As many as 100-150 children die each month from a variety of causes, from street fights to starvation to illness.
Article 33 (Drug abuse): Governments should use all means possible to protect children from the use of harmful drugs and from being used in the drug trade.
Every day, an average of 45 Iranian girls, mostly under the age of 18, run away from home to escape poverty, abuse, and social imprisonment. Though some are picked up by the police and brought to welfare organizations, many fall into the hands of organized prostitution rings or drift into crime and the sex trade. They are transported to other countries such as the UAE or to Afghanistan and Pakistan to work as prostitutes; some simply disappear. Police in Tehran reportedly round up an average of 90 runaway children every day and as of September 2001, more than 900 girls and 700 boys (between the ages of 10-18) were reported to have fled their homes in Tehran. Often, the young runaways are raped or killed by criminal gangs in Tehran. According to recent reports, one girl or young woman in Tehran is raped and murdered every 6 days, as criminals increasingly take advantage of runaway children.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in their strategic programmatic framework for Iran for 2006-2008 noted recent growth in the trafficking of human beings both into and from Iran. Organised criminal networks are reported to be engaged in trafficking of children (Afghans, as well as Iranians) from Iran “to the Gulf Region littoral states for both camel riding/racing and sexual exploitation, as well as from Iran to Pakistan and Afghanistan for drug trafficking.” Perversely, trafficking in humans presents lower risks for criminals than trafficking in drugs, and is thus becoming “a very attractive business alternative to drug trafficking bands in control of the southern drug smuggling routes.”
Article 34 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child: Governments should protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.
Article 35 of The Convention on the Rights of the Child: The government should take all measures possible to make sure that children are not abducted, sold or trafficked.
Summary and conclusions
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