Phasing Out Child Labor an Uphill Task

Official figures put the number of street (or labor) children in Iran at over two million, while unofficial figures say it has crossed seven million. A 2015 study by the SWO says 73% of working children are involved in street vending
Labor children are aged 10-15 years old on average.Labor children are aged 10-15 years old on average.

An estimated 110,000 children out of school have been identified and 55,000 are covered by support organizations over the past four years, said deputy for social welfare at the State Welfare Organization, at the fourth session of the Council to Organize Street and Labor Children.

“These children, some of whom were in forced labor, were identified under a scheme by the SWO in the past calendar year (ended in March) and the results were reported to the council,” Ahmad Meydari was quoted as saying by ISNA at the session held Tuesday, on the occasion of World Day Against Child Labor (June 12).

Under the auspices of the council, the SWO has started an initiative where economic and social information on all Iranian children is gathered to help support organizations bring needy and out of school children back to the classroom.

The scheme utilizes school registers and crosschecks them with information provided by the Organization for Civil Registration, singling out those who are in school age, but not enrolled in any school.

“There are deficiencies in the plan,” Meydari admitted, since the only way to contact out of school children is the home telephone number, and “it is probable that there are students without a landline whom we haven’t identified yet.”

The International Labor Organization reported in 2013 a significant reduction in the number of child laborers around the world, from 246 million in 2000 to 168 million in 2012— a decrease of almost one-third. But it underlined that while progress had clearly been made, child labor around the world persists.

SWO’s ultimate goal is to fight poverty among children, Meydari stressed. “If a child is out of school, then they are in poverty. If they have some form of disability that keeps them from attending school, they too are in poverty because their families do not have the means to provide for special education.”

The government is cooperating to some extent with NGOs in empowering underprivileged households under a joint plan between the Helpers’ Network (a board of directors at a broad network of NGOs active in protection and support of labor children) and the SWO that was launched nearly five years ago by identifying a number of needy children every year and providing them with clothing, education facilities, and other means of sustenance. No money is given to their families directly, but provisions that help the families thrive and enable their children to have a better future, are provided.

  Problem of Unofficial Settlements

Deputy Labor Minister Abolhassan Firouzabadi said that marginalization has adversely contributed to the child labor phenomenon in Iran.

“There are 10-12 million people living in informal settlements where multiple social problems arise, one of which is child labor,” he said at the meet.

Underscoring the importance of addressing the issue, Firouzabadi said his ministry will review reports by NGOs and incorporate them in future planning.

“We are also following up on the issue of dedicating some medical facilities to these children, as proposed by the Health Ministry,” he added.

Based on a report by Society of Students against Poverty (known as Imam Ali Relief Society), which is mostly active in areas concerning children and their rights, rummaging through garbage heaps is one of the worst forms of child labor.

“There is no precise data on the number of working children in Iran,” said Fatemeh Qasemzadeh, head of the Helpers’ Network.

Official figures put the number of street (or labor) children in Iran at over two million, while unofficial figures say it has crossed seven million. According to a 2015 study by the SWO, 73.2% of the children in labor are engaged in street vending.

“Local NGOs cover only about 10,200 of this number,” Qasemzadeh said, as reported by IRNA.

“There are 15.3 million school-age children in Iran, but only 12.3 registered in schools,” she noted. “It makes you wonder about the fate of those 3 million.”

The Imam Ali Relief Society reported that labor children are aged 10-15 years old on average. The rate of addiction is also very high among families with these children. Based on the society’s research, 41% of these children are illiterate, and 37% quit school to work before finishing primary education.

In October 2016, Roozbeh Kordooni, social deputy at the Ministry of Labor, Cooperatives and Social Welfare said, “The situation of children’s rights has not improved, child labor has surged, and we need to reform laws to better protect vulnerable children.”

A bill for a law to protect children and adolescents’ rights has been gathering dust in the Majlis Legal Affairs Committee for almost a decade. Children’s rights activists are looking to the current parliament, which has 17 women lawmakers in the 290-member chamber, to review the bill and pass it during their 4-year tenure. The bill seeks to protect the rights of boys and girls below the age of 15 and is an attempt to ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing of children.

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