Child labor is defined by the International Labor Organization as the exploitation of children through any form of work that deprives children of their childhood and interferes “with their ability to attend regular school, and is mentally, physically, socially or morally harmful.” The Human Rights Watch estimates that around 70 million children around the world are currently working in hazardous conditions across many sectors, including agriculture, mining and domestic labor. Unfortunately, in Iran, the number of child laborers continues to grow. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about child labor in Iran.
10 Facts About Child Labor in Iran
- As of 2012, around 11 percent of children in Iran were engaged in some form of illegal work. Under Iranian law, it is illegal to work under the age of 15. However, due to circumstances like poverty and organized crime, this law is not often followed. Often, criminal groups force children to sell items or beg on the street, and research shows that in some cases children as young as 3 years old have fallen victim to this kind of labor. Some children are forced to swallow packets of drugs and cross the border of Iran to excrete them. Many have died in this process. Additionally, children’s bodies have been found abandoned without certain organs in remote areas of Iran.
- Poverty is a major contributor to child labor in Iran, as homelessness increases a child’s vulnerability. The government reports that more than 60,000 children live on the streets in Iran. This makes it easier for perpetrators to target children who are in desperate need of food and shelter, especially if the parents are absent. In fact, About 60 percent of child laborers in Iran are the only source of income for their families.
- The problem is so vast that officials believe it cannot be handled by one single entity. In April 2018, Reza Jafari, the director of the Iran Welfare Organization’s office, said that “child workers are so numerous that no organization can single-handedly cope with the problem.” Government officials are working to tackle the issue from several angles, including welcoming outside help from nonprofits.
- Child labor has declined globally but is on the rise in Iran. Since 2000, the world has seen its child labor rate drop by a third, while Iran has experienced the opposite. Vice president of the Association for the Protection of Children’s Rights Tahereh Pazhuhesh said in June 2018 “despite the global reduction in the child labor statistics, we see child labor surge in Iran.” The worsening problem illustrates the urgent need for help in the area, as it is more and more common to see children working in sweatshops, markets, farms and more.
- Government officials believe that 90 percent of child laborers have been sexually assaulted. Reza Ghadimi, managing director of social services at the Organization of Tehran Municipality, released this statistic on a state-run news agency report in October 2017. He added that many of these children are also exposed to sexually transmitted diseases.
- The rate of HIV infection is higher for child laborers is higher than the average. The head of the AIDs Research Center of Iran, Dr. Minou Mohraz, said “the rate of HIV infection among Iran child laborers and street children is 45 times higher than the average.” Additionally, these children are often exposed to other sexually transmitted diseases such as Hepatitis B.
- While Iran’s government has banned child labor, state-sponsored institutions still hire child workers. Municipality contractors often recruit children aged 5 to 15 years old because they can pay them less. In fact, because children are less aware of their rights as workers, they can be paid up to 70 percent less than adults. Waste management is one industry that employs a particularly high number of children. This is especially dangerous because as Tehran City-Councilwoman Elham Eftekhari noted, “these children not only work but also live and sleep in garbage factories that are filled with vermin and odors.”
- The ILIA Foundation is looking to help, and the presence of NGOs in big cities like Tehran is on the rise. The organization are focusing their efforts on the root of the problem, which is extreme poverty. The ILIA Foundation is opening more outreach centers, which provide shelter and hands-on education for struggling children. The Foundation also partnered with U.N. refugee and health agencies to tackle the issue from all angles.
- UNICEF is working with the government to address the root of the problem. The group works with political leaders and focuses on promoting good parenting, as well as enhancing the State Welfare Organization’s capacity to monitor the problem. It also aims to improve Iran’s Child Protection in Emergency’s coordination mechanism.
- The Imam Ali Popular Students Relief Society is bringing a new approach to helping the street children of Iran. The group, which is recognized by the U.N., was organized in 2010 and has already gathered 12,000 volunteers to help its cause. The organization holds events for the children, like sports events, to bring them positivity and hope. Meysam Vahdei, the group’s head of sports, said “the only choice for most of these kids in their neighborhoods is violence, poverty and mis.ery. We have tried to give them self-confidence through sports to improve their lives.”
Child labor in Iran is not only a serious issue but a worsening one. These facts about child labor in Iran demonstrate the critical need for aid in the region. Poverty is at the heart of the problem and organizations are working to reduce these extreme conditions, in turn getting the children the help they need.
– Natalie Malek