In the streets of Tehran and other major cities, groups of children as young as three beg, clean car windows, and pick up rubbish, often pushed by their own families, unable to meet their needs. Estimates range from four to seven million child workers. Neither the government nor parliament have been able to act on the matter.
Tehran (AsiaNews) – Walking the streets of Tehran, as soon as you reach a crossroad, it is not uncommon to see children and youth aged 3 to 15 n working to survive, individually or in group, engaged in various activities, like begging, cleaning car windows, selling flowers (especially daffodils) or horoscopes.
On most of their faces you can see both innocence and fatigue, caused by unwholesome work in both hot and cold seasons, with tired and calloused hands, doing things that their peers cannot not imagine.
When seeing them, it is natural to wonder where they come from, who they are, and where their families are? But above all, why they are allowed to do such hard work in such dismal conditions?
The problem has grown dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And at present, after more than a year and a half, it is getting worse day by day.
The reasons pushing minors to work from an early age are the economic problems that afflict their families, as well as drug addiction by their parents.
In cases where one or both parents use drugs, the latter do not work or what they do is not enough to guarantee their survival.
This is why many choose to have children and then send them to beg and earn some money to support their needs. Often a child is seen as a source of income and, from birth, are initiated into child labour.
Mohammad is not yet 15 years old, but he is one of the many children we met as he picked up rubbish in the street.
“I have been doing this for five years,” he told AsiaNews. Pointing to two other children, he added that "now, in order to collect more rubbish and waste, I had to 'hire' two more to help in this task.”
Often when they are under 10, all the money earned is taken by their families, but as they get older, they learn to put some aside to provide for their needs.
In Iran, child labour is not limited to the streets of the capital Tehran; there are shops and businesses that exploit children, such as brick factories, car repair shops, farms, and so on.
According to data by an Iranian welfare organisation, from two years ago, there are at least 5,000 child workers on the streets of the capital, 930 in Karaj, 1,063 in Tabriz and 950 in Kerman, but the real figure could be far greater. Some estimate that the real number might range between four to seven million.
For former lawmaker Ahmad Bigdeli, child labour is one of the country’s most important social problems.
Rahman works with his son in a brick factory near Karaj. He said he has to take the 10-year-old with him due to the low salary he receives for long working hours. He says he brings his boy three days a week in order to support his family.
The difficulties are exacerbated by the high rate of inflation, poverty, unemployment and low household incomes, which are also linked to international sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear programme.
This has driven many parents to take advantage of their children to cope with expenses.
While child labour is an increasingly pressing emergency, the Iranian government and parliament seem unable to provide adequate responses on the short run.