Challenges Faced by Young Iranian Girls: A Reflection on World Children’s Day
The Iranian regime stands out as one of the world’s most conservative and misogynist governments, deeply entrenched in its misogynistic ideology, which it has codified into laws and policies. On the other hand, it is widely regarded as one of the most corrupt and exploitative administrations, perpetuating poverty among the general population and exacerbating class disparities. This dark reality seems to grow more pronounced with each passing day.
Furthermore, it is disheartening to acknowledge that even young Iranian girls find themselves not only subjected to the government’s severe misogyny but also utterly defenseless from early childhood, constrained by the regime’s restrictive laws and policies, preventing them from standing tall and playing an equal role in society.
These innocent girls constitute the most vulnerable segment of society, and their situation becomes increasingly dire as poverty deepens throughout Iran. They bear the brunt of economic pressures within their families, leading to a host of related problems such as violence, child abuse, malnutrition, child labor, forced marriages, addiction, and even sleeping in cardboard boxes in the streets. These issues multiply and prey upon the most marginalized members of society as poverty spreads.
While this report aims to shed light on the various aspects of insecurity affecting the lives of young Iranian girls under the rule of the mullahs, it is important to recognize that millions of these girls may be confronting several, if not all, of these problems simultaneously.
On the occasion of World Children’s Day on November 20, we reflect on the situation faced by young Iranian girls and children, urging the international community to take notice and address these pressing concerns.
Discriminatory Laws Targeting Young Iranian Girls
In numerous instances, young Iranian girls have been subjected to unjust and inhumane laws designed to discriminate against them. One glaring example is Article 1210 of the Civil Code, which sets the age of puberty for girls at a mere 9 lunar years, equivalent to 8 years and 9 months. In stark contrast, the age of puberty for boys is set at 15 lunar years. Even though 15 years falls short of international standards, the discrepancy is alarming.
It is evident that a girl who has not yet reached the age of 9 is, in most cases, not only physically immature but also lacks the intellectual maturity to manage her life or engage with legal responsibilities. However, the rule of the mullahs imposes this heavy burden on innocent Iranian girls from a very young age.
Article 147 of the Punishment Law reinforces this disparity by setting the age of criminal responsibility for girls at 9 lunar years. From this age, girls are subjected to humiliation, insults, and even public beatings under the guise of enforcing strict hijab and other misogynistic policies promoted by the regime and its corrupt associates.
Furthermore, Article 1041 of the same law allows for the marriage of girls from the age of 13, and even before reaching this age, fathers, grandfathers, or judges can coerce girls into marriage at any age. This practice is not only a form of violence in itself but also fosters more violence within society, as it deprives young Iranian girls of education, future career prospects, and the chance for a dignified life.
The regime’s rules also perpetuate the economic dependency of girls on the men in their families. Article 907 of the Civil Code grants sons twice as much inheritance as daughters.
Article 301 of the Punishment Law essentially provides fathers and paternal ancestors with a degree of impunity in cases of violence against women and girls. This is because retribution only applies when the perpetrator is not a father or a paternal ancestor. In such cases, the father faces a relatively short prison sentence or a fine, while the blood money paid for women is only half of that paid for men.
For this reason, when a Muslim woman is deliberately killed by a Muslim man, the victim’s family must pay the perpetrator half of the full blood money before seeking retribution. This provision effectively facilitates violence against women and girls throughout society. Notably, individuals who have committed heinous crimes, such as beheading, have received relatively light sentences, further highlighting the inadequacy of the legal system.
For example, the father of Romina Ashrafi, who beheaded her 14-year-old daughter in June 2020, was sentenced to 9 years in prison. Sajjad Heydari, who paraded in the streets holding the head of his 17-year-old wife in February 2022, was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. Please note that under the Iranian regime’s laws, the punishment for murder is execution.
Additionally, it is worth mentioning that the Civil Code of the clerical regime recognizes violence against children under the guise of “discipline” in Article 119.
The clerical regime’s Civil Code further discriminates against girls, even regarding custody. Under this law, girls are only entitled to custody up to the age of 9, while boys retain this right up to the age of 15. These discriminatory practices perpetuate the systemic inequalities faced by young Iranian girls.
Poverty and Malnutrition
The impoverishment of the Iranian people, stemming from the policies of the clerical regime, has resulted in a dire consequence – the inability of citizens to maintain a normal and adequate diet. This widespread deprivation affects many young Iranian girls and children, leading to malnutrition, stunting proper growth, and causing various associated health issues.
According to official yet non-transparent government reports, an alarming figure of nearly 15 million children in Iran suffer from malnutrition. Seyyed Hadi Mousavinik, the Director General of Social Welfare Studies at the Ministry of Labor and Cooperation, stated that a staggering 57 percent of Iran’s population is grappling with malnutrition. Among these individuals, approximately 14.5 million are children, with nearly 10 million of them being under 12 years old. (The state-run rouydad24.ir, July 10, 2023)
Other regime officials, including Musa Shahbazi, the Director General of the Economic Studies Office at the Parliament’s Research Center, estimated that as of January 2022, around 35% of the Iranian population lived below the poverty line. (The state-run etemadonline.com, January 11, 2022)
Farshad Momeni, a professor at Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran, highlights the gravity of the situation, noting, “We are witnessing a scenario where, according to official statistics, roughly one out of every three Iranians is living in absolute poverty. Reports from the Statistics Center reveal that 89% of Iran’s impoverished population consists of former and current employees, retirees, and laborers.” (The state-run Rokna.net, September 5, 2023)
Some government experts have even suggested that the actual percentage of the population living below the poverty line in Iran may be as high as 70%. (The state-run Alef.ir, December 26, 2021)
Compounding these challenges, the economic conditions in Iran continue to deteriorate, and the inflation rate steadily rises. According to the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Trade’s report, the prices of three essential commodities – rice, sugar, and meat – surged by over 75% in the period from 2020 to 2021. On November 30, 2021, the head of the Grocery Vendors’ Union disclosed a 50% decline in fruit consumption in Iran.
The secretary of the Iranian Nutrition Association, while deeming the nutritional conditions dangerous, revealed that the most significant deficiencies occur in protein, dairy products, vegetables, and, especially, fruits. He acknowledged that the diets of the impoverished primarily consist of limited carbohydrates and fats.
It’s important to note that this situation precedes the further price increases implemented by the government of Ebrahim Raisi in August 2022. Ali Asghar Maleki, the head of the Mutton Meat Union, expressed concerns in August 2022, warning that with the removal of the 4200-Toman currency and the beginning of the new (Persian) year, meat prices had skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. “If this trend persists, red meat may become a luxury item, barely affordable for the average household.” (The state-run farazdaily.com, July 27, 2022)
The 4,200-Toman currency is a currency that the government used to sell through banks at the state rate and offered at a rate of 4,200 tomans per US dollar and used for the import of basic commodities.
Ali Ehsan Zafari, CEO of the Union of Dairy Cooperatives, openly acknowledged that “in recent months, dairy products have been accumulating in factories, and per capita milk consumption has dramatically dropped from 120 kilos to just 40 to 50 kilos.” He further highlighted that, due to the reform of the subsidy system, the approved prices of four key dairy products surged by a staggering 80%. (The state-run dailyfaraz.com – July 27, 2022)
Over the past two years under Ebrahim Raisi, the people have had to contend with a skyrocketing inflation rate of at least 250%, significantly impacting their daily lives. For instance, in September 2021, premium sheep thigh was priced at 145,000 tomans per kilo, while calf thigh sold for 162,000 tomans per kilo. Fast forward to September 2023, and each kilo of sheep has reached a staggering 440,000 Tomans, with calf meat not far behind at 380,000 Tomans per kilo.
Currently, the poverty line in Tehran stands at 30 million Tomans, and in urban areas, it is at least 23 million Tomans. This is three times the average income of workers, underscoring the financial hardships faced by the population. (The state-run ILNA news agency, August 27, 2023)
Hossein Raghfar, a researcher specializing in poverty and economic justice, pointed out the lack of official statistics on the poverty line in recent times, making it challenging to determine the exact percentage below the poverty line. Nevertheless, he highlighted the clear and rapid spread of poverty in society in light of escalating expenses over the past few years, especially due to the high inflation rate and currency devaluation, which reached 70% in June. (The state-run baharnews.ir, August 16, 2023)
Deprivation of Education and the Tragic Cases of Young Iranian Girls Facing a Bleak Future
On August 31, 2022, tragedy struck Marivan as 14-year-old Shiveh Belwayeh lost her life due to severe burns and broken bones. Shiveh, hailing from a village in Marivan, resorted to an extreme act after her family prevented her from pursuing her education into the 10th grade. She set herself on fire and leaped out of a window in their home. The absence of a girls’ high school in Deh-Bonyad village and surrounding areas necessitates that girls from this region travel to Marivan to continue their education, a source of concern for their families. (Kurdish Hengaw website, August 31, 2022)
According to statistics from the Parliament’s Research Center regarding school dropouts across all educational levels, “the total number of dropouts in the academic year 2015-2016 amounted to 862,777 individuals, a figure that increased by 26% to 911,272 people in the academic year 2021-2022.” (The state-run tejaratnews.com, August 19, 2023)
In the academic year 2022-2023, the overall student population was approximately 15,376,000, with half of them being girls, education officials stated. Furthermore, the Deputy Minister of Education revealed that 160,479 Iranian children aged six to eleven are currently out of school. (The state-run ISNA news agency, August 27, 2023)
Over the past six years, the number of students discontinuing their education in Iran has been steadily on the rise. The report from the Palriament’s Research Center even indicates a 17% increase in the number of student dropouts, in the age group of 6 to 18, due to various reasons. (The state-run Khabaronline.ir, March 11, 2023)
The figures related to students and school dropouts, like many other issues, are shrouded in concealment and inconsistencies. For instance, the regime has reported for years that the number of students in the country has remained at 15 million. In June 2019, the state-run Mardomsalari daily stated that there were 2 million school dropouts, which was, in fact, a figure from the previous year. However, in 2023, state media reported approximately one million students discontinuing their education. (The state-run tejaratnews.com, August 19, 2023)
Amidst rampant inflation, widespread poverty, and high unemployment plaguing Iranian society, the deteriorating economic conditions, government corruption, and embezzlement within public institutions have further exacerbated the situation. It is evident that such statistics are published primarily to downplay the extent of social disasters and shield the realities from the public and the international community.
Despite the lack of transparency and accuracy in government statistics, they nevertheless shed light on the dire circumstances faced by children, especially young Iranian girls. In 2018, the adviser to the Ministry of Education and the director-general of women and family affairs disclosed that 19% of the country’s girls were out of school, underlining the pressing issues that continue to affect them.
In the same year, Rezvan Hakimzadeh, Deputy Minister of Education for Elementary Schools’ Affairs, revealed that “40 to 50% of secondary school students in the border provinces drop out of school for various reasons, including early marriage.” (The state-run Taadolnewspaper.ir, March 9, 2019) This alarming statistic indicates that nearly all girls in these areas are compelled to leave school prematurely.
In 2019, Massoumeh Ebtekar, Head of the Women and Family Affairs Directorate in 2019, estimated that the number of girls missing out on education was three times higher than that of boys. (The state-run ana.press, September 17, 2019).
All available data supports the fact that girls are more likely to drop out of school and remain out of school compared to boys. This trend becomes particularly pronounced at the secondary level, mainly due to forced marriages.
The most recent official statistics from the clerical regime reveal that, on average, 6% of Iran’s total student population discontinued their education. In other words, for every 16 students, one has left school. This ratio surges to nearly 20% at the secondary level, signifying that one out of every 5 students drops out.
According to estimates from Iran Open Data (IOD), this percentage climbs to nearly 9% among female students. (This contrasts with the 19% statistics reported in 2018.) At the secondary level, this rate reaches over 25%, which implies that for every 11 female students in Iran, one girl has dropped out, and at the secondary level, for every 4 female students, one girl has discontinued her education. (The state-run iranopendata.org, March 8, 2023)
An educational expert within the government noted, “The statistics published by the provincial education departments unmistakably demonstrate that girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys. In many instances, internal education regulations or the assignment of teachers restrict girls from continuing their education. For example, in Qibleh village of Kohdasht, 14 female students abandoned secondary school because the village had only a boys’ school, and there were no teachers for girls.
“The local education department suggested that the girls attend a nearby village school, but the families objected, insisting that the girls study in the same village school as the boys because they were all relatives and preferred their girls to stay in their own village school. Nevertheless, Reza Zinivand, the General Director of Education in Lorestan, cited ministerial directives that prohibited mixed-gender classes, preventing this from occurring. (The state-run sobhshod.ir, December 19, 2020)
Similar situations are replicated in numerous other cities and villages.
Another government expert has pointed out that in nearly all annual reports from government and oversight agencies regarding student dropouts, three significant factors consistently emerge: cultural biases, limited access to education in some regions, and economic challenges. These factors often bear the blame for the dropout rates, allowing education officials to distance themselves from responsibility by attributing the statistics to external factors. Remarkably, many parents who have denied their children access to education over the past decade, had themselves grown up under the same educational system. (The state-run sobhshod.ir, December 19, 2020)
In August 2022, Alireza Pakdel, a member of the Parliament’s Education and Research Commission, candidly acknowledged that poverty serves as the primary obstacle preventing students from pursuing their education. He shamelessly conceded that the absence of schools was a significant contributing factor, stating, “You cannot build a school in every village!” (The state-run fa.shafaqna.com, August 17, 2022)
However, the government’s problem is not its inability to provide schools; rather, it is the oppressive and profit-driven policies of the regime, which divert the Iranian people’s wealth into the coffers of terrorism, rendering it impossible to construct schools for underprivileged children.
This regime prioritizes its officials’ interests above all else. An example of this is the evacuation of Aftab School in Kerman in March 2022, where working and street children were studying, an action taken by the General Endowment Department, with little regard for the fate of those children. (The state-run Shoaresal.ir, February 28, 2022)
In general, the share of education in the government’s budget and its share of the GDP are diminishing, while the proportion of non-government schools, which primarily serve the offspring of government officials with the financial means to afford tuition, continues to grow, supported by government resources and facilities. (The state-run Javanonline.ir, June 25, 2022)
Eskandar Momeni, the Secretary General of the Anti-Narcotics Headquarters, disclosed in early January 2022 that a “comprehensive survey of society” had revealed that 90% of students who drop out of school are at risk of falling into the clutches of various social ills, such as addiction.
Child Labor: A Consequence of Government’s Predatory Policies and Rising Poverty
One of the unfortunate consequences of the government’s exploitative policies and the growing poverty among the Iranian people is the increasing number of young Iranian girls and children forced into child labor.
The economic hardship experienced by families, high unemployment rates, widespread poverty, and the inability of household heads to provide for their families over the last six years, have significantly contributed to the rise in school dropouts and the surge in the number of working children. Many families have had to resort to sending their children to apprenticeships, street vending, and hourly jobs to help make ends meet, as they struggle to cope with the dwindling family income. (The state-run fararu.com, August 17, 2022)
Alireza Pakdel, a member of the Parliament’s Education and Research Commission, acknowledged the impact of poverty on the proliferation of child labor, stating, “We can see a growing number of working children on the streets of the capital, often working alongside their fathers. The main reason for this is the pressing need for livelihood.” (The state-run fa.shafaqna.com, August 26, 1401)
Ahmed Bigdeli, a member of the mullahs’ parliament, highlighted the significance of the rise in child labor as a troubling social issue. He explained that this phenomenon is driven by the low wages offered to children, who have bad guardians or no guardians. They are frequently exploited by profit-seeking individuals. He candidly admitted, “As poverty increases in society, the number of working children also rises to the extent that we even witness these children selling flowers at 5 a.m., often at risk on the expressways where there is no safety for pedestrians.” (The state-run iran-bssc.ir, October 10, 2020)
Hassan Mousavi Chalak, the head of the regime’s social workers association, pointed out the dire situation, stating, “Pensioners are unable to maintain a decent standard of living under these circumstances. Families are compelled to use all available resources to make ends meet.” He further admitted, “Until recently, it was the male members of the family involved in scavenging, then the boys joined in, and later, even the women. Nowadays, we witness young girls scavenging for a living.” (The state-run hamshahrionline.ir, August 22, 2022)
In an article dated July 26, 2021, the state-run asriran.ir paints a distressing picture of child labor, stating, “At every intersection, we encounter children ranging from 2 to 13 years old, working alone or in groups. They engage in activities such as begging, cleaning car windows at traffic lights, selling bouquets of flowers, or even peddling horoscopes. The harsh summer sun has darkened their skin to the color of the asphalt.
“The innocence of their age is overshadowed by the weariness caused by reprehensible work, endured in both cold and hot weather. Their faces bear the marks of fatigue, their hands are calloused, and they perform tasks that their peers should never have to bear—all for a meager wage.”
Unsurprisingly, the regime fails to provide accurate statistics on child labor, given that the profiteering entities, which government officials often liken to the mafia in various aspects, are closely linked to government-affiliated groups and organizations, most notably the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). These entities have a notorious reputation for exploiting women and children, earning them a grim reputation among the Iranian populace.
In 2017, government experts estimated the number of child laborers at 7 million. (The state-run tasnimnews.com, September 27, 2017)
According to the latest available statistics, child labor accounts for approximately 8% of the country’s children, and when including children working within their households, this percentage rises to about 15%. Shockingly, around 10% of working children do not attend school. (The state-run Mizan news agency, July 30, 2023) This situation persists despite the unanimous acknowledgment by government officials that the number of child laborers has been steadily increasing.
Mohammad Reza Javadi Yeganeh, the Social and Cultural deputy for Tehran’s Municipality, disclosed that there are around 5,000 children in Tehran involved in scavenging. He attributed the lack of accurate statistics to the fact that “most working children lack any form of identity registration, making it difficult to provide precise figures in this field.” (The state-run imna.ir, June 12, 2021; the state-run rokna.net, June 4, 2021)
A professor of Rehabilitation Sciences and Social Health pointed out that the majority of the available research on child labor in Iran primarily focuses on street children, with significantly less information available regarding other occupational groups and the work performed by rural children. (The official IRNA News Agency, June 19, 2022)
Therefore, when you consider the combined estimates across all cities and villages, encompassing various forms of child labor, as well as the unremunerated domestic and family work, particularly carried out by girls, the situation becomes deeply disconcerting.
The Frail Bodies and Shattered Spirits of Working Children
The physical well-being of working children raises grave concerns. Shockingly, a significant portion of these children face numerous health issues. As of June 19, 2022, statistics revealed that among working children, 80% suffer from stunted growth, 86% are excessively underweight, 77% grapple with oral and dental diseases, 73% have eye ailments, 61% endure respiratory conditions, 64% battle heart problems, 60% contend with ear, throat, and nose disorders, 82% are burdened with skin diseases, and 60% are afflicted with digestive system ailments. (The state-run kebnanews.ir, June 19, 2022)
Elham Fakhari, the head of the social committee of Tehran City Council, grimly noted that 4-5% of working and street children are infected with AIDS.
Many working children find themselves ensnared by various social ills or resort to criminal activities due to the economic and cultural destitution of their families, as well as the absence of proper social education and training. Notably, 80% of these children exhibit aggression and violence, 50% engage in theft, 41% involve themselves in drug dealing, and 85% participate in the destruction of public property. (The state-run kebnanews.ir, June 19, 2022)
Official statistics from the regime reveal that, on average, 10-17% of working children are completely illiterate, and 40-60% have dropped out of school. Alarmingly, 75% of these children toil throughout the entire week. Those working for their own families spend three to five hours per day, while those employed by others endure seven hours of daily work. (The official IRNA News Agency, June 19, 2022)
The increased working hours for children, exposure to hazardous jobs, adverse working conditions, heightened mental distress stemming from forced labor, the fear of contracting diseases, the closure of centers offering educational, health, and recreational services to working children, the reduction in family income due to parental deaths, and the coercive and often inhumane treatment of these children by government entities all contribute to the hardships they endure. (The state-run imna.ir, June 12, 2021)
Regarding the working conditions of children in various environments, Elham Fakhari provided disheartening insights. She noted that children labor from seven in the morning to five in the evening in substandard rice fields near Behesht-e Zahra for a mere daily wage of 25,000 Tomans. Most of these workers are between 10 and 15 years old, with some as young as seven or eight, earning a meager 300,000 Tomans for 11 hours of work in pressing workshops.
These workshops are typically non-standard and pose trauma-inducing conditions, including deafening machine noise, polluted air, the risk of amputation, and harsh physical punishment. In addition, children engaged in garbage-picking rummage through bins without protective gloves, exposing themselves to a host of diseases, including AIDS, hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid, ringworm, intestinal parasites, dysentery, polio, knee and back pain. (The state-run Khabarban.com, June 12, 2018)
Fatemeh Arzanian, Vice President of Welfare Social Affairs for Tehran Province, emphasized that these children often toil in various roles such as peddlers, car waxers, street vendors, beggars, window cleaners, pewter workers, flower sellers, waste collectors, and even prayer sellers. Psychologically, all of these children face various forms of abuse. Sometimes, family members are the perpetrators, while in other cases, exploitative groups may be involved. Many of these children suffer from malnutrition, physical ailments, and inadequate hygiene practices. (The state-run ILNA news agency, August 1, 2022)
The latest report on child labor delves into the hidden world of underground workshops, recently published by the state-run Khabaronline.ir. This exposé sheds light on the harrowing experiences of children who bear deep scars on their hands and faces from the molten materials used in crystallization workshops. It unveils the struggles of those with small hands and feet who are seriously injured due to forced labor in clandestine and semi-hidden workspaces.
The conditions within these crystal workshops are nothing short of horrific, lacking even the most basic safety equipment. These children work within the blistering furnaces, enduring temperatures ranging from 800 to 1400 degrees Celsius. Some are tasked with swiftly removing glass from the furnace, a task that often leads to accidents. They labor without any protective gear, sometimes in slippers, and run the risk of molten glass falling onto their exposed feet.
These children bear witness to a myriad of injuries; there have been eye injuries when materials have accidentally fallen into their eyes, resulting in complete destruction. They also suffer from dreadful cuts and burns on their faces, hands, and necks, all due to their working conditions.
Their grueling workdays typically stretch from six in the morning until seven in the evening, often totaling 10 to 12 hours of labor each day. These children are even required to work on holidays, leaving them with no respite. This devastating scenario affects all children, including girls, who receive meager pay, with their weekly salary averaging 400,000 tomans.
One such workshop is situated on the streets of Ray city. After 5:00 p.m., roughly 20 children around 10 years old, some as young as 6-7 years old, leave the workshop and return to their homes. One child described their working conditions: “We toil from six in the morning until five in the evening, and we only get a break on days like Muharram (i.e. a religious holiday), but we work all the other days. We all come from the same place. Some children even work during the night, and sometimes they are even younger than us. I think there are around 200 day and night workers.”
Another teenager, well-acquainted with the hardships they face, points to the burn on the hand of a 9-year-old boy, explaining, “Do you see this wound? It’s from about 15 days ago. Children’s hands burn even more than adults.” Unfortunately, there is no immediate access to first aid, bandaging, or medical treatment for these wounds.
Nevertheless, another teenager lamented, “Our workshop is better, but the rear workshop has terrible conditions; they mistreat the workers and do not pay the children on time.”
The younger children among them are often more reticent, speaking less frequently. One child shared, “We don’t go to school. Of course, we hardly have any free time; we don’t have birth certificates, either. And they give us 1,100 Tomans a week.”
In certain pressing workshops, employers exploit the poverty of families by providing an initial sum of money to the family before the child begins working. The family then becomes reliant on this money, and the child is essentially forced into labor, becoming akin to a slave. The employer holds considerable power over the child’s life. In most workshops, children suffer more from both mental and physical injuries compared to the children working in the streets, to the extent that these children harbor thoughts of suicide in many cases.
The intricacies of life within these workshops are truly grim. In one particular case, a child’s hand was amputated at work, but even seeking medical help required permission from the employer.
Certainly, these children’s experiences are often contingent on the whims of their employers. In many workshops, children suffer from a combination of mental and physical injuries. Consequently, children working in such conditions tend to be more introverted compared to their peers on the streets. Even though there has been increased focus on street children in recent years, awareness of child labor in workshops remains limited. Our psychologist has conducted numerous interviews with these children, revealing alarmingly high rates of suicidal thoughts among them. (The state-run khabaronline.ir, August 28, 2022)
An earlier report that delves into the unsanitary living conditions of working children, as detailed by a state-run website, asriran.com, paints a bleak picture. “Narrow and rubbish-strewn alleyways serve as their playgrounds, while their homes consist of dingy, smoky four-walled structures with metallic doors that emit a persistent screech each time they open and close. People within the community lead monotonous and stagnant lives. The children either wander these grim alleys or have just returned from their labor on the streets or are scavenging the trash bins. Unfortunately, the neighborhood’s extreme pollution exacerbates their plight. These children endure a plethora of health issues, including lice infestations, skin infections, jaundice, ear infections, malnutrition, and hepatitis.
“Girls are particularly vulnerable, as they face additional health risks related to menstruation. Their long hair becomes infested with lice, as cutting girls’ long hair is culturally discouraged. Access to clean water is limited, and the available water is often contaminated. (The state-run asriran.com, July 10, 2019)
In addition to these challenges, the physical and mental injuries suffered by working children make them susceptible to learning disorders. Estimates indicate that 32% of working children experience memory problems, 30% grapple with learning difficulties, 61% exhibit mild mental disorders, 21% lack curiosity, 64% have limited awareness of their surroundings, and 61% contend with speech impediments. (The state-run kebnanews, June 19, 2022)
Conditions of Working Girls
Conditions for working girls are particularly harsh, and Elham Fakhari acknowledges that they endure the most harm among child laborers on the street (The state-run Khabarban.com, June 12, 2018)
One prevalent occupation for girls is flower selling, and according to Mehdi Hedayat, the mayor of the 19th district of Tehran, “flower vendors’ mafias exploit children to sell flowers and pay them 30 to 50 thousand tomans per day, while the actual daily earnings of each flower seller amount to between 1.5 and 2 million tomans.” (The state-run hamshahrionline.ir, April 19, 2022)
Elaheh Ghorbani, a sociologist, sheds light on the ordeals faced by working girls, emphasizing that these children are subjected to persistent teasing and verbal abuse, which, although commonplace, still deeply affects them. Her research involved interviews with approximately 50 young Iranian girls between the ages of 6 and 16 who worked on the streets.
The motivations behind these girls’ involvement in child labor are primarily rooted in poverty, family inability to sustain a livelihood, family breakdown, absence of guardians, abusive parents, migration without a source of income, or the hereditary tradition of street work within their families. Fear and pressure also play a significant role in girls working in public spaces. This pressure can emanate from family obligations or the need to support their families. Virtually all these children are familiar with drug-related issues, with nearly 80% of them having addicted parents.
Regarding the working hours of these girls, Ghorbani notes that their work schedules mimic those of adults, usually spanning from around 10 in the morning to the afternoon, and sometimes extending late into the evening. They typically occupy fixed work locations. Those who work in parks or subway stations are often accompanied by two or three friends, supporting each other in their endeavors.
All these children confess that they initially found it challenging to work on the streets, and they were extremely shy. One girl recounted, “When I started working, I would cover my face so that no one could see me because I felt so embarrassed.”
When it comes to the harassment that girls experience on the streets, Ghorbani observes that most of these children are well aware of the dangers and live in fear of being abducted or subjected to other harmful situations. They rely on their friends for support and would alert each other to any suspicious circumstances. In some cases, they even disguise themselves as boys by cutting their hair and donning boys’ clothing to enhance their safety.
Moreover, household chores often fall upon these girls. They return home from work and engage in tasks such as dishwashing, cooking, sweeping, and more.
These working girls endure such harsh lives that they express a strong desire to exchange their street work for opportunities in workshops like carpet weaving and sewing. The majority of them are illiterate and rarely surpass the fifth-grade level in their education. (The state-run isna.ir news agency, May 3, 2021)
This government sociologist, while recognizing the prevalence of sexual abuse of girls, further emphasizes, “Children find it very difficult to discuss cases of sexual abuse, but they are keenly aware of what has transpired with their friends. Verbal abuse is yet another form of mistreatment that these children endure daily. They often express their frustrations, saying, ‘People don’t want us to come near them, and we wonder why they treat us this way. We work because we have problems and lack money, and we do not choose to work ourselves. However, we have no other option.’”
Early marriage and childbearing are widespread issues in impoverished families with working children. These children may start courting as early as the ages of 7 or 8, and they often get married by the time they reach 14. Most men in these families have multiple wives, and households typically consist of at least 4 or 5 people.
Their living quarters are frequently confined to a small room where all family members reside together. All aspects of life take place in the same room. Girls often marry their cousins, who are likewise child laborers, and there is typically no new home after marriage. The young couples share their living space with other family members, such as fathers-in-law, with no separate accommodations.
Elham Fakhari issues a warning, saying, “The number of marriages involving girls under the age of 15 may see an exponential increase as a consequence of child labor consolidation initiatives.” (The state-run Khabarban.com, June 12, 2018)
Working Girls’ Great Fear
However, instead of fulfilling their responsibility to provide for the well-being of these children and their families, the clerical regime’s authorities, while using harsh language such as claiming that the presence of working children tarnishes the city’s image, resort to repression and brutal crackdowns, often rounding up these children. (The state-run Mehr news agency, July 10, 2009 and August 23, 2016)
Elaheh Ghorbani states that in addition to the numerous challenges faced by working children, they also live in great fear, fearing that “they might be taken into custody by welfare authorities and subsequently lose their families.”
Working girls are especially fearful of government bodies, notably the municipality and welfare agencies, and they often flee upon encountering them. They believe that welfare agents might apprehend them, cut their hair, and render them bald.
There have been many instances of humiliation and physical abuse of working children by the police and government municipal agents, with some of these incidents even making their way into cyberspace and government media. A report from the Iranian government website asriran.com, for instance, acknowledges that had these children possessed cameras, even more distressing images could have been circulated on virtual networks. (The state-run asriran.com, February 4, 2019).
Fatemeh Arzanian, the Deputy for Social Affairs in Tehran Province’s Welfare Organization, claimed that in 2021, a total of 2,600 working and street children were identified and taken under the care of the so-called welfare and other government institutions in Tehran Province. (The state-run ilna.ir news agency, August 1, 2022)
Amin Shahrokhi, the General Director of the Welfare Organization in Tehran Province, made an unsympathetic appeal to citizens, urging them to promptly report children working on the streets to the social emergency services instead of offering assistance or financial support. (The state-run Borna.news, June 12, 2021)
The Plight of Young Iranian Girls without Birth Papers
The misogynistic laws of the ruling regime have created another grave issue for Iranian women and children: the denial of birth certificates to children born to Iranian mothers and non-Iranian fathers, effectively depriving them of their right to life.
The exact number of children without birth certificates remains unknown, but their presence is all too real. As per outdated regime statistics, there are approximately one million undocumented individuals in Iran, with around 400,000 of them being children. (The state-run hamshahrionline.ir, July 24, 2022)
It is crucial to recognize that many marriages between Iranian women and foreign men go unregistered due to patriarchal marriage laws that require government approval. Additionally, many children born in Iran face this issue because their mothers are products of similar marriages, are immigrants, or lack Iranian identity documents for other reasons. This unfortunate cycle will persist and multiply as long as the mullahs’ regressive laws prevail.
Ensieh Khazali, Head of the Directorate for Women and Family Affairs, acknowledged the problem without providing concrete statistics: “The issue of identity and the lack of birth certificates for children or mothers without identity is a significant challenge in various provinces, including Sistan and Baluchestan, Qom, Yazd, and Khorasan. This deprives them of proper education and healthcare.” (The state-run hamshahrionline.ir, July 24, 2022).
Sistan and Baluchestan province alone accounts for 55,000 undocumented children. (The state-run hamshahrionline.ir, December 26, 2021)
Ahmad Maydari, the former Deputy for welfare in the Labor Ministry, clarified that this issue is not exclusive to a single province but extends to many areas, including Tehran, Khorasan, Isfahan, and Qom. This situation has deprived these individuals from education and health. (The state-run hamshahrionline.ir, July 24, 2022)
Children without birth certificates face severe deprivation of their rights. They are barred from attending school, obtaining insurance, and accessing social and cultural services, effectively making them invisible in society.
The Untold Story of a Blossom That Never Blooms
Ameneh Yar-Mohammad-Zehi is a child with exceptional academic potential who managed to progress through the 10th grade but was ultimately forced to leave school, despite earning straight A’s on her report card.
Ameneh’s father hails from Pakistan, and her mother is an Iranian national. Since 2011, this family has been entangled in a case registered with the Zahedan Department of Foreign Nationals and Immigrants, adhering to the stringent laws of the Iranian regime. They possess all the required documentation and have dutifully attended the Citizens Office, cooperating with all administrative inquiries. Yet, despite their earnest efforts, they received no response. The devastating outcome was the expulsion of Ameneh from school in August 2022, despite her outstanding academic record.
Ameneh lacks a national identification number and, as a result, is barred from being registered in the Sidar system. Therefore, she does not have the right to pursue her education further and participate in the secondary round of 10th-grade examinations. Her story echoes the plight of countless young Iranian girls and boys who are without birth certificates, depriving them of a future. They, like Ameneh, are forced into early marriages, bearing children without birth certificates, and living in a perpetual state of identitylessness and hopelessness. (The state-run sharghdaily.com, August 13, 2022)
Withholding Identity from Children Born in Iran under the Mullahs’ Rule
In June 2020, the clerical regime’s parliament passed a bill known as the by-law on granting Iranian citizenship to the offspring of Iranian women wed to foreign men. Subsequently, the state-run media outlets featured optimistic articles titled “Certification of the citizenship of children of Iranian mothers.” However, this legislation didn’t substantially benefit these children since the mother requires an Iranian birth certificate to obtain one for her child. This becomes a vexing dilemma for numerous children, given that their mothers also grew up without birth certificates throughout the more than 40 years of clerical rule.
Numerous marriages of Iranian women remain unrecognized due to the Iranian regime’s misogynistic laws, which result in their children being deemed illegitimate. In such cases, these children must endure their entire childhood without access to education and essential social services until they turn 18, at which point they can apply for a birth certificate, provided they haven’t committed any crimes under oppressive social pressures. The judicial bodies must also grant them security approval. (Excerpt from the regulations on granting Iranian citizenship to the children of Iranian women married to foreign men, dated June 2, 2020)
The decision regarding Iranians lacking birth certificates is not made by the National Registry Office but by the Coroner’s Office first, followed by the Security Council. This council is a security institution comprising representatives from organizations such as the Revolutionary Guards, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Ministry of the Interior, and the governorate. In most cases, this body fails to provide any response to applicants, even when several years have passed since the filing of the case.
The majority of applicants are those who have been residing in Iran for generations, were born in the country, or have lived in Iran for decades, yet the clerical regime’s authorities do not recognize them as Iranians. Some applicants are genuinely Iranian but have lived in remote, inaccessible villages and were unaware of the significance of obtaining identity and birth certificates. This practice has persisted across generations. Furthermore, due to the prevalence of large families in rural cultures, this issue continues to escalate. (The state-run sharghdaily.com, August 13, 2022)
The Coroners Office, tasked with verifying the genetic profiles of these individuals as the initial step in the intricate process of identification, has lamented the lack of resources and equipment. (The state-run imna.ir news agency, February 16, 2022)
The regime’s Judiciary Branch has only devised plans to issue identity papers for 80,000 children out of approximately one million Iranians without birth certificates who have been verified as existing. (The state-run hamshahrionline.ir, July 17, 2022)
The Final Word
In conclusion, this volume cannot encompass all the sorrowful facets of the lives of young Iranian girls, and we consciously omitted significant topics such as early marriages, child abuse, rural girls, runaways, girls’ suicides, honor killings, and more. Nonetheless, we believe that any impartial reader, by perusing these pages, will grasp the perilous predicament in which young Iranian girls find themselves.
Despite this fact, the predicament of young Iranian girls remains intertwined with the fates of all women, youth, and the entire Iranian people. The paramount issue for all Iranians, regardless of gender or age, is living under the rule of the mullahs’ religious and archaic dictatorial regime.
As the world witnessed during the 2022-2023 uprising, young Iranian girls were among the pioneers of the uprising, protesting the dictatorial regime at any opportunity. Many of them were bludgeoned to death during protests, others were viciously beaten at school suffering fatal internal bleeding. Or they are brutally assaulted by Hijab patrols in the streets and metro stations. Most recently, Armita Geravand was fatally assaulted in a Tehran metro train and lost her life after slipping into a coma.
Hence, anyone advocating for humanity, those championing women’s rights, those upholding human rights, proponents of environmental conservation, those striving for progress, defenders of religious minority rights, peace activists, and, in brief, those embracing any core human values will recognize that the first imperative step is to condemn and isolate the mullahs’ regime. By doing so, the people of Iran may eventually topple this regime, paving the way for their freedom and fundamental rights. This, in turn, will enable innocent young Iranian girls and children to envision a brighter future.