Free Health Services for Children in Forced Labor

Free Health Services for Children in Forced LaborFree Health Services for Children in Forced Labor

All state hospitals have been instructed by the Health Ministry to admit child workers and their families free of charge for treatment.

The directive is part of the ministry’s efforts “to help ease the pain of the young but deprived segments of the population.”

Health Minister Hassan Hashemi told IRNA that child labor is the outcome of wrong policies in the past that failed “to get to the essence of the problem.”

The present situation is due to the mistakes and ignorance on the part of all branches of the government, and today the legislative, judiciary and executive bodies are all responsible and must take action,” to redress the problem, he said.

Hashemi noted that forced labor of children is a social malady and an undeniable reality that demands the collaboration of all entities including the public and philanthropists.

It is the government’s duty to take measures to mitigate the conditions of working children, he said, but the ability of the state is limited and private sector and communities must step in.

Fatemeh Qasemzadeh, head of the board of directors at the Helpers’ Network told the Financial Tribune that children seeking medical help must be registered at a local NGO active in supporting street and working children to receive any form of assistance.

“The pertinent NGO will issue a reference letter stating the child’s circumstances along with their medical records or type of illness, which they can take to the hospital in order to get treatment,” she said. “They can also be accompanied by a social worker for identification.”

The Helpers’ Network or the ‘Network to Help Children in Labor’ is a broad bloc of NGOs active in protection and support of labor children.

  Not Significant

Positive steps that have been taken by certain organizations including the Health Ministry and municipalities, although commendable, have not made any significant improvement in the plight of working children, the minister noted.

Attempts must be focused on prevention of such a phenomenon rather than providing assistance later to the affected.

“Building shelters and caring centers or providing medical services for these groups are essential tasks, but the best way to tackle the issue is to address the root causes of the problem,” Hashemi added.

To do so, it is essential to take practical and effective steps to develop the economy so that all sections of the people have a fair share in it.

The solution does not lie in providing doles to poor families, but rather in eradicating poverty so that families will not be forced to send their underage children to work, the minister was quoted as saying.  

“We must take immediate decisions instead of simply indulging in platitudes.”

   Precise Figures Lacking

Noting that there is no precise data on the number of working children, the minister called on the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare and the State Welfare Organization to come up with the actual figures.

Some of these children do not even have birth certificates and therefore have not received vaccination, which fortunately is being dealt with by the Health Ministry.

According to official statistics released by the Parliament Research Center, as many as 3 million or 22% of Iranian children under the age of 18 are not attending school (not registered or dropped out for various reasons), and at least half of them (1.5 million) are believed to be in forced labor.

Child labor refers to the employment of children in any work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful. This practice is considered exploitative by many international organizations.

In order to meet their basic day-to-day needs, poor households tend to send their children to work. Many of the working children suffer from severe malnutrition.

Such children enter adulthood lacking the skills needed for decent work, leaving them more vulnerable to joblessness or to low-productivity, low-wage and insecure jobs.

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