Iranian boy, 11, kills himself for lack of a smartphone to access online lessons

Mohammad Mousavizadeh hanged himself in his family’s kitchen. The principal says the school had provided a phone. For the mother that claim is a lie because the device was broken and had no Internet connection. The boy’s teacher backs the mother’s version of events.

Tehran (AsiaNews) – An 11-year-old boy, Mohammad Mousavizadeh, killed himself in the kitchen of his family’s rented humble home last Sunday.

“He insisted on sleeping in my arms the night before his death,” the distraught mother told the Rokna News Agency, which closely monitors developments regarding Iran’s social problems.

“I had no idea what he was up to the day after,” which is when she “found him lying on the kitchen floor with his black and blue face” after he had hung himself.

The tragic act is the result of the boy’s inability to follow his school’s online lessons since he had neither a smartphone nor a tablet.

The tragedy occurred in Dayyer, a town in the southern province of Bushehr, and has sent a shockwave of outrage, despair and disbelief across the country, deeply affected by the child’s death.

The story further fuels the debate over poverty in the Islamic Republic, hit by US sanctions that have undermined its economy, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

The story went public when Mohammad’s mother, Fatemeh, spoke to the media. She is the family’s only breadwinner. She earns some money for her three other kids — one of whom is disabled — and her ailing husband, cleaning houses and is helped financially by some relatives.

“The principal had promised several times to provide him and two other kids with smartphones, but he never did,” Fatemeh said.

Faced with the scandal, school officials denied any wrongdoing saying that they had given the boy a phone for free to follow the lessons, saying that he had joined online courses.

However, the mother rejected this version of events, accusing the principal and those responsible of "lying". The phone the boy received was old, broken and not connected to the Internet.

Mohammad's teacher backs the mother’s version. In a note of condolence, the teacher writes that the child had contacted her several times with messages in which he stated his “broken phone” could not send or receive images he needed for his homework.

No one in Iran has been left untouched by the tragedy, conservatives and reformists alike.

“The school principal’s denial would not change anything because there are numerous families who cannot afford a tablet or a smartphone for their children,” writes reformist paper Aftab-e-Yazd.

The shocking case strikes against the Iranian government’s ambitious plans for online learning during the pandemic.

According to a spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s Commission for Public Education, online classes remain inaccessible to as many as 3 million out of 14 million Iranian schoolchildren.

For the ultraconservative daily Javan, the boy was as a “victim of educational discrimination”, and another sign of “the deep-rooted poverty” in Iranian society.