Children are the most vulnerable members of society and international institutions have taken many measures to enhance their security and welfare. In fact, November 20 is being celebrated as the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day.
However, Iranian regime is one of the most heinous violators of children’s rights. Since the time it seized power in 1979, it has victimized children by denying them their right to decent education in modern schools and has indoctrinated them with radical ideas in mosques to prepare them for wars.
During the Iraq-Iraq war, Khomeini’s regime used hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren as cannon fodder. It has been reported that most young recruits received between one to three months of military training before they were being sent to the war front.
There were reports of nine-year-old children being used in human wave attacks, while others were asked to run over minefields to clear the path. In fact, many child soldiers captured by Iraqis during the Iraq-Iran war were in their early teens.
Iranian child soldiers were sent into the battlefield with plastic keys around their necks. These keys symbolized their so-called permission to enter paradise. Sent ahead of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops and armored vehicles, these children were used as ‘mine-clearers’. Most of them were blown up as they charged across the minefields, thereby clearing the way for the IRGC.
Although there are no reliable records about the actual number of children casualties in the war, a statement made in 1982 by former president of the regime Ali Akbar Rafsanjani stated that Iran’s armed forces had been supplemented by 400,000 volunteers.
According to a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross at least 10 percent of Iranian prisoners of war were underage children. According to many Iranian military officers captured by Iraqis during the war, nine out of 10 Iranian child soldiers were killed in the battlefields.
Schoolboys attend a session of the Iranian parliament in Tehran on December 11, 2011. (Reuters)
Afghan child soldiers in Syria
The same system of sacrificing children continues to this day. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released on October 1 this year, the IRGC and its armed Basij units continue to put children of Afghan refugees in Iran in harm’s way, as was witnessed in the currently waging Syrian conflict.
In a repeat of the Iran-Iraq War, the regime reportedly recruited and dispatched schoolchildren to sweep minefields in Syria.
The HRW report states: “Afghan children as young as 14 have fought in the Fatemiyoun division, an exclusively Afghan armed group supported by Iran that fights alongside government forces in the Syrian conflict. Under international law, recruiting children under the age of 15 to participate actively in hostilities is a war crime.”
Iranian regime is also known for executing juvenile offenders and such executions are increasing every year. Presenting her report to the UN earlier this year, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Situation in Iran Asma Jahangir, expressed grave concern over the “highest number of executions” of juvenile offenders totaling 435 in the first six months of the year.
“I note that Iran has ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which commit the country to protecting and respecting children’s right to life,” the Special Rapporteur noted. “These Conventions also unequivocally forbid the passing and carrying out of the death penalty on anyone below 18 years of age,” she added.
The sense of outrage is echoed by Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa: “It is absolutely appalling that two decades after it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran continues to display such a chilling disregard for children’s rights.”
A homeless woman and her child beg for money 22 May 1999 in Tehran. (AFP)
Trafficking of children
The rise in the number of street children, working as beggars and street vendors, has raised concerns among international organizations. The US State Department’s annual report on human trafficking 2017 states: “Street children in Iran are highly vulnerable to trafficking.
Organized criminal groups kidnap, purchase and force Iranian and migrant children, especially Afghan refugee children, to work as beggars and street vendors in cities, including Tehran. These children, who may be as young as three years old, are coerced through physical and sexual abuse and drug addiction”.
Even Iranian officials occasionally admit that children and even babies are being smuggled out of country for sale. Fatemeh Daneshvar, chair of the social committee of Tehran’s City Council, admitted on 8 March 2017 that babies born prematurely to street women are often smuggled to other countries to be sold.
She was also quoted as saying: “Most of these infants are taken abroad and we do not know whether they are sold to organs trafficking gangs, to families or to brothels,” the report added. Daneshvar added: “This gang sells baby girls for a price higher than boys and sends the babies to unknown destinations”.
Foster care programs
On rare instances, Iranian officials round up some street children and put them in foster care programs. In a chilling report appearing in Iran’s media outlets on November 3, Director of Tehran’s Municipality Welfare Office Reza Qadimi said: “Of the 400 street children rounded up recently 90 percent were sexually abused and raped.”
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the IRGC not only run the better part of Iranian economy but they also run most of the criminal gangs in Iran and divert the windfall to fuel wars abroad. Over the years, it has been repeatedly proven that children are dispensable in their scheme of things.
However, Iranian people and their children deserve better than the ruling clerics in Tehran. It is high time that some countries around the world shed their illusions about Iranian regime and focus on a better future for the nation and the region by formulating a new policy on Iran.
Reza Shafiee (@shafiee_shafiee) is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).