Tehran’s forgotten street children

Photo: Tehran’s forgotten street children / Iran

Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb. 25

By Umid Niayesh - Trend:

As many modern cities in the world, the Iranian capital Tehran has great disparity: two sides, heaven and hell.

In the northern neighborhood of "Tajrish" some people pay thousands of dollars in rent every month, while in the southern neighborhood of "Darvazeh Qar" there are reportedly children sold on the streets for less than $2,000.

Iran's Etemad newspaper published a report on Feb. 18, about the neighborhood where kids are being sold for $33 to $1,600 by parents; usually, drug addicts.

There are horrible stories: a 13 year old Afghani mother who sold her newborn child for $1,000; some children are even sold before being born; houses with tens of children who are rented out to work in the streets as beggars.

You can see many of these children with tiny hands, selling flowers, begging, playing accordion and singing love songs in various parts of the city: in metros, bus stations and at street lights, roaming between cars.

What is the government's response to this issue? The issue is considered so sensitive that officials will not divulge any information. This reporter tried repeatedly to talk with officials in Tehran's Welfare Organization, but without any success.

Iranian media outlets quoted deputy head of the State Welfare Organization, Mohammad Nafarieh as saying the organization covers the orphaned children, but covering "all" the children, and those who are being abused by their family or organized crime is impossible.

"Families take back their children by court order from the organization," he added.

The official also claims that some 70 percent of the children belong to middle class families.

"Some 70 percent of the street children's families are not poor," he said, adding that they are mainly not local people, rather, mainly foreigner migrant from Afghanistan and other countries.

However, the head of the Welfare Organization, Homayoun Hashemi said that only 30 percent of street children in Iran are foreigner migrants.

Social Services Deputy at the Welfare Organization of Tehran Municipality, Reza Jahangirifar confirms the selling of children for work in Tehran. He also emphasizes that lack of legislation on the issue prevents organizations from protecting kids who are abused by their parents.

He also said that Tehran Municipality does not have a center to keep street children, even temporarily.

Children rights watchers in Iran are hopeful about the new bill currently under study in the Iranian parliament: "supporting victim children." The bill has been prepared jointly by the State Welfare Organization and Iran's Judiciary and if ratified will permit judges to transfer the responsibility of the victimized children from their parents to the Welfare Organization or other caretaker families.

Some officials including Nafarieh and Jahangirifar claim that the new bill will overcome legal problems that now prohibit protecting the children.

On the other hand, there are some signs showing that nothing will change even if the new bill to be ratified. Chairman of the Iranian parliament's Social Commission Abdolreza Azizi said that nothing different from the earlier laws is included in the current bill.

The Iranian Welfare Organization is already allowed to separate children who suffer from bad conditions due to drug addicted parents and take care of them according to the laws, he added.

Secretary of Iran's National Body on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Mozaffar Alvandi also argues that there is no lack of legal statues on the issue.

"The problem is related to neglecting current rules, not lack of rules," he said.

Some officials even prefer to remain quiet and deny the problem.

While responding to a question about allocating budget to support child labor, Iranian MP Fatemeh Alia said on Feb. 14, that "there is no child labor in Iran," so no funds have been allocated on the issue in the country's budget.

There are no accurate statistics of the street children, while the officials claim that there are "only" 14, 000 - non governmental organizations put the number of children living on the streets at 200,000, with some half of them thought to be Afghan refugees.

Alia who is member of the parliament Social Commission went on to say that there is no official statistics on the issue because it has not been confirmed officially.

But so long as politicians continue to ignore topics of prime importance and sweeping them under the proverbial rug, there remains little hope for the problems of Tehran's street children. Unless there is reliable statistical data on the issue, and the officials have a united voice on the problem as well.

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