By Faranak Bakhtiari

Every child has the right to a childhood

June 12, 2021 - 17:51

TEHRAN – Despite laws banning child labor, available statistics show that over the years, many children have worked in underground workshops, on the streets, or scavenging on rubbish dumps, while every child must benefit from childhood.

According to the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child (SPRC), there are 14,000 dumpsite pickers in Tehran, of which 4,700, or one-third of them, are children.

Habibollah Masoudi Farid, the deputy head of the Welfare Organization, announced in 2020 that there are an estimated 70,000 street children in the country. Of course, given that the conditions of children working in workshops are different, Masoudi Farid said that there are no exact statistics.

Under the law, the employment of children aged 15 or younger is prohibited in Iran and there are also restrictions on types of jobs that persons between 15 and 18 years can do. For example, no child is allowed to work on jobs that pose occupational health hazards.

There are two concepts for labor children, some of whom are street children and others who are not homeless but have to work to provide a family livelihood.

Street children are homeless boys and girls, aged under 18 years, for whom “the street” has become home or their source of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised.

No law deficiencies 

Referring to the leading causes of child labor in the country, Seyed Hassan Mousavi Chalak, head of the Iranian Social Workers Association noted that the current causes of child labor in the country are similar to its global causes, which are economic and financial issues.

“There are no law deficiencies in the country, even undocumented foreign nationals should be protected from child labor based on the law.

Different articles of the Constitution, the law on the Comprehensive Welfare and Social Security Organizational Structure, and Law on Maintenance of Women and Orphaned Children are all consisted of child labor prevention and protection of these children,” he stated.

What makes the situation fragile is mostly lack of financial resources to enforce the law properly.

Even the law on the protection of the rights of the child, passed by the Guardian Council a few days ago, defines the protection for working children, banning economic exploitation, unfavorable working conditions, and long work.

The worst kind of child labor

Masoudi Farid told ISNA that waste picking is the worst kind of child labor; as the children may be exploited in the worst conditions.

It is also considered modern slavery, he lamented, adding, two studies conducted by the SPRC show that there are over 4,000 children waste pickers in Tehran.

“Waste segregation at source” is a solution to reduce child scavengers, while municipalities have a very important and pivotal role in this regard, he emphasized.

The SPRC estimated the total value of dry waste at 26 trillion rials (nearly $628 million at the official rate of 42,000 rials), he stated, the share of children is only 2.4 percent of the total value of waste, amounting to one-third of the whole rubbish scavenger band.

Instead of helping the child directly, people should give their contributions to supportive institutions or NGOs, because these institutions can meet the needs of these children, he highlighted.

Garbage collection and working on the street are not decent jobs for a child (even for a 15- to 18-year-old), because the dignity of the child is lost. We should prevent child labor and identify the families of these children and support them not to abuse the children, he further emphasized.

Key factors

Although the main factor to help reduce these phenomena is cross-sectoral cooperation with all the related bodies and officials in attendance, socio-cultural capacities should be used for economic growth and protecting these children as our social capital, Mousavi-Chalak said.

“We need to create a sense of responsibility in all members of society to be able to take effective steps in this regard using the capacities of NGOs and volunteers.”

Some countries like India worked well on this issue without spending a big sum of money but by strengthening a sense of responsibility in the society which needs to be shared among other countries dealing with the same issue, he noted.

Good social capital can lead to various growth in a society, like promoting ethics, producing quality goods, and feeling responsible for whatever happens in society.

In the current situation that preventing children from working is difficult, if not impossible, it is essential to provide them with safe work, education, and a suitable work environment, observing their rights and reduce their presence in the street.

It is noteworthy to say that social issues are not political and should be separated from politics, but also should be prioritized and taken into consideration more seriously.

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