The government ignores and covers up the bleak reality of child labor in Iran
Crushing poverty is the root cause of child labor in Iran. The government ignores and covers up the bleak reality.
June 12 marks the World Day Against Child Labor and tends to serve as a catalyst for the growing world movement fighting child labor worldwide. The United Nations has set the theme for 2023, “Social Justice for All. End Child Labour!” According to the UN, child labor can be eliminated if the root causes are addressed and when will and determination come together. However, this is not the case in Iran.
Although the problem of child labor in Iran is one of the country’s most serious social ills, the Iranian regime denies the scope of child labor problem in Iran, does not take any effective measures, nor does it allocate sufficient funds to deal with the problem. On this day, we will glance over child labor in Iran and the situation of child laborers.
Root causes of the problem of child labor in Iran
Child laborers in Iran work in the streets, underground workshops, brick kilns, factories, farms, etc. Various sources and government officials in Iran have acknowledged that the root cause of child labor in Iran is poverty.
One study found that most of the child laborers come from poor families and work to help earn their families’ living. (The official IRNA news agency, December 1, 2022)
Although there are no accurate statistics on the number of street children and child laborers in Iran, sporadic statistics and some preliminary studies show that this phenomenon is rising, especially in metropoles. (The state-run ISNA news agency, November 14, 2022)
Mohammad Reza Heydarhaii, the caretaker of the office of individuals affected by social harms in the Welfare Organization, told the official IRNA news agency on May 2, 2023: “The main reason for the presence of children in the streets is poverty.”
“The prime factor that drives child laborers on to the streets is that they are poor. These children are considered a source of revenue for their families,” said Reza Jafari, head of the Social Emergency Organization and the general director of the Office of individuals affected by social harms in the Welfare Organization. (The state-run ISNA news agency, June 12, 2018)
Based on the latest research by the Research Center of the mullahs’ parliament, another 11 million individuals have added to the population of Iranians living under the poverty line due to the 69% inflation in April. The Echo Iran website reported on May 25, 2023 that one-third of the Iranian population lives under the poverty line. The middle class is not far from going under the poverty line.
Echo Iran wrote that the poverty line for a family of four was 7.5 million Tomans in September 2022.
Difficult to find any accurate statistics on child labor in Iran
There are no accurate statistics on the number of children involved in child labor in Iran. Statements by various officials range from 7,000,000 to 7,000. (The state-run Tejaratnews.com, November 3, 2022)
Nahid Tajeddin, member of the mullahs’ parliament: “Some experts on urban economic problems put the number of child laborers in Iran between three million to seven million. The population of child laborers in Tehran is estimated to be 20,000.” (The state-run Tasnim news agency, September 27, 2017)
Hossein Maghsoudi, a member of the regime’s parliament, “We have about 15,000 scavengers in the capital [Tehran], of which 5,000 are children, 40 percent of whom are the sole breadwinners of their families and are only between 10 and 15 years old” (The state-run Khaneh Melat website (ICANA) – October 18, 2019).
Habibollah Massoudi Fari, deputy for social affairs of the National Welfare Organization: “Child labor is among the hidden social problems. The studies done with the University of Welfare Sciences indicate that we have some 70,000 street children in the country who live on the streets for a period of time. Of course, the conditions of children who work in the workshops is different and there is no accurate statistics available on them.” (The state-run ISNA news agency, September 11, 2020)
Mahmoud Aligou, head of the Social Emergency Organization: “Based on the Labor Ministry statistics in 2017, there are 500,000 child laborers in the country. There are three groups, the ones that work in workshop, those on the streets, and those who collect garbage. According to the statistics of the Welfare (Organization), the number of child laborers working in the streets is estimated to be 14,000 in the country. According to the information of NGOs, there are some 4,000 children collecting garbage in Tehran.” (The official IRNA news agency, April 12, 2021)
Vahid Qobadi Dana, head of the National Welfare Organization: “12,000 child laborers and street children are covered by the daily services of the Welfare Organization. With the help of NGOs, this number has increased to 16,000.” (The state-run Mehr news agency, July 19, 2021)
Mohammad Reza Heydarhaii, caretaker of the office of individuals affected by social harms in the Welfare Organization: “There are 120,000 child laborers in the country… Last year, we identified 14,500 street children.” (The state-run ISNA news agency, April 17, 2023)
Soudeh Najafi, Head of the Health Committee in Tehran’s City Council: “There are some 70,000 child laborers in Iran and this figure is growing by the day.” (The Judiciary website, Mizan, June 11, 2023)
One can see that different officials in different years have provided contradictory figures.
With the bankrupt economy and the growing population of the poor in Iran, how could the number of child laborers decrease over the years?
Obviously, there is a lack of transparency on the part of the Iranian regime and an orchestrated attempt to downplay the actual figures.
The government says most child laborers are not Iranian nationals
The Iranian authorities try to mitigate the severity of the situation by saying that more than 80 percent of child laborers in Iran are not Iranian nationals.
Soudeh Najafi from Tehran’s City Council said more than 80 percent of the child laborers in Iran are foreigners. (The Judiciary website, Mizan, June 11, 2023)
Mohammad Reza Heyarhaii told IRNA, “According to estimates, 83 percent of street children are foreign nationals and mostly Afghans. Over 60% of them are illegal foreign nationals.” (IRNA, May 2, 2023)
It is amazing that while there are no accurate statistics available on the number of child laborers in Iran and when not all street children have been identified by government agencies, how these officials could come up with percentages!
However, studies done by the NGOs indicate that 65% of the child laborers are Iranian, including Kurds, Baluch, Turk, Pashtu, and Arabs. 18% of child laborers are Baluch. Only 35% are children from neighboring countries or immigrant families. (The state-run Delgarm.com)
Conditions of girls involved in child labor
According to one study, child laborers’ earnings are lower for girls. They earn less for an equal amount of work. Some of these girls do not even receive their own earnings as their caretakers take them.
Female child laborers in Iran also experience sexual harassment by their employers.
Another study says girls become sick more than boys (32.4% compared to 21.5%). They have more accidents (49.3% compared to 29.2%). They experience more sexual abuse (12.7% compared to 2.75%). They are beaten and insulted by people more frequently (26.8% compared to 11.8%). (The official IRNA news agency, December 1, 2022)
Welfare systems do not receive sufficient funds to deal with the problem
Habibollah Massoudi Farid, former deputy for social affairs of the National Welfare Organization (2014 – 2021), said one of the challenges of the Welfare Organization is the lack of allocated funds. “It is very important that the organization receives 100 percent of the fund allocated to it, according to the law. On the other hand, when we get into the problem of child labor and street children, we see that it is not the child alone but also their families that need support. To relieve these problems, we need resources, but the allocated resources are very small.” (The state-run ISNA news agency, November 14, 2022)
Harassment of Children’s rights activists
Not only does the government not deal with the problem of child labor in Iran, but they also pressure and harass the NGOs and rights activists who try to help these children.
The Interior Ministry does not extend the license permit for the NGOs that work for children. On the other hand, the municipality does not allow NGOs to work without license permits.
Children’s rights activists see the conditions of child laborers firsthand. They do not see any action when they report the situation to the official agencies in charge. Then if they interview the press to bring attention to the problem and provoke a reaction, they are arrested and accused of acting against national security.