The Working Children of Iran
Working children, though socially separated from the people, are also constantly there – right in front of people’s eyes every day. They work to help their families, to pay for their parents’ addiction, support sick or unemployed parents, and sometimes just to survive. They are subjected to violence. They walk with shame and with a physical bent as they carry immeasurable burdens (physical and emotional) on their young shoulders. They don’t have time to play or learn how to read and write. They spend their lives on the street. They have forgotten how to laugh.
According to the census of 2016, there are about 721,000 working children in Iran. Mostly in the provinces of Sistan, Baluchistan, Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. A 2018 study showed that there are twice as many boys than girls working on the streets, and that more than half of them work 4-8 hours a day (33.8% 1-4 hours daily, 52.1% 4-8 hours daily, 13% more than eight hours on the street), with 75% working seven days a week. Another study in 2020 showed that around two thirds are Iranian and one third migrant children (62.5%/37.5%). Some of these children are trafficked from other countries, mostly Afghanistan.
However, statistics on child labor in Iran are not reliable for a whole range of factors. Some political, and some on how these children are counted. For examples, the devastating reality is that in some statistics, the work of girls in the family is not considered child’s work – it’s just a given. So girls are not counted in these total.
Maroueh Vameghi, a member of the faculty of Iran’s University of Rehabilitation Sciences and Social Health said, “The statistics and figures about child labor in the cities and villages of Iran are very different [to each other]. The main problem is related to the way of collecting, presenting data and definitions related to child labor.”
There seems to be an agreement amongst officials in Iran that there are 13 agencies in Iran responsible for tackling this issue, and yet there is no agreement on how many children are affected and no real productive effort to solve the problem. Could it be that they contribute too much to the economy? According to Mahmoud Aligo (head of Iran’s social emergency), the financial turnover in the field of street children is more than one thousand billion [tomans] only in Tehran. That’s over 30 million USD. Masoumeh Foroutan, social welfare deputy of Fars province, confirms that many families send their children to work on the street due to poor economic conditions.
Children with unemployed, illiterate parents, naturally have a higher likelihood to be called about to help put bread on the table. Certainly, rural children work more than urban children. Village life plays a big role here. Sadly, this also contributes to increased illiteracy in rural areas and a widening of the gap between Iran’s affluent and educated urban population, and the increasingly poor and illiterate in the rural areas.
The bulk of the work these ‘street children’ do is selling goods. But some also work collecting and transporting waste, carrying luggage for ‘customers’, and in prostitution.
According to Reza Jafari, Former General Director of the Office of the Victims of Social Welfare Organization of Iran, working and street children are mostly abused both in the family and on the street. Surveys show that about 73% of street children have a history of violence.
Hadi Shariati, a lawyer and vice president of the board of directors of the Association for the Protection of Children’s Rights, in an interview with ISNA in 2018, emphasized the deepening trauma and long-term issues these children face: “Now the problem is not only illiteracy, lack of education or malnutrition; The penetration of the HIV virus, addiction, depression, self-harm, suicide, sexual harassment, uncontrolled violence, etc. are all emerging injuries that threaten working children. Damages that if we don’t think about solving it today, it will cover the entire society.”
In the latest report of Iran’s Statistics Center, which was published and named ‘Study on the Situation of Working Children’ in 2020, 114 countries have been studied by UNICEF, according to which Iran ranks 44th with a rate of 7.85%. Countries such as Palestine, Turkey, Iraq, Georgia, Syria and Armenia are in better conditions compared to Iran in terms of child labor statistics, and Afghanistan and Yemen are in worse conditions.
In 2022, the number of working children in Iran has increased – as it has done in previous years. In the meantime, ‘Hamshahri online’ writes that solving the problem of street children has become a major problem in the country for years. Despite the fact that many conferences and specialized gatherings are held on this issue, which have led to decisions, the realities on the streets, especially in the capital, show that the country’s street children are still neglected by the authorities.
In a field report published on 14 August 2021, IRNA news agency went to the children in the Shush and Ghorbati neighborhoods in Tehran and investigated their sufferings. They found widespread deprivation of even the most basic needs of life. They children struggle with addiction, forced marriage, physical, mental, and sexual violence, malnutrition, anonymity (no documents), and all kinds of skin and health diseases.
Working and street children are also, more than any others, exposed to or victims of trafficking (Fatemeh Ashrafi, CEO of the Association for the Support of Refugee Women and Children).
Pray for the children of Iran. Pray for the street children. Transform Iran sends teams to the streets to feed these children, tend to their medical needs, pray with them, and where possible, offer a way out. Transform Iran has helped 500 children in 2021 and 800 in 2022. We want to help thousands more in the coming years – we can only do this with the support of your partnership. Partner with us and help us reach more children. (Funds are used in strict accordance with international sanctions and OFAC restrictions).
Sources: IRNA, ISNA, VOA News