The Child Labour and Street Children Problem
The plan to “collect Tehran’s street children” is one of the plans that initially was approved by the Tehran Governorate. But the implementation of this plan drew the protests of children’s rights activists against the implementation method of such plans. The subject of collecting and managing of child labourers is one of the challenges that still has remained unresolved, because the government’s proposed solutions have not been approved by NGOs and civil society institutions.
Government institutions efforts to confront with child labour
According to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the use of children in more than forty harmful jobs is prohibited and any use of children in jobs that against human dignity and or exploitation of children as well as the necessity to compensate, is punishable by heavy sentences.
The Managing of Street Children Guidelines of 2005 was approved by the cabinet of ministers which to-date is the only document that monitor’s the improvement of the lives of child labourers on the street; and according to these Guidelines, the managing of children is a collective of activities which begins with the identification and drawing of street children to children reaching a trustable fate.
In 2015 a new Guideline entitled “Social Supports for Child Labourers and Street Children” was written which cleared up the criticisms give to its predecessor. Education, insurance, health and hygiene, food, empowerment and etc. are some of these supports that are mentioned in the new Guidelines. But these Guidelines have still not been ratified and the Employment and Social Welfare Ministry is still waiting for the response of relevant bodies with regards to the contents of the Guidelines.
In the Managing of Street Children Guidelines of 2005, reference has been made to the correct identification of children through social workers, and that following identification, the attraction must be in such way that through establishing lasting communication with children, trust building takes place; so that children cooperate with the process and not to suddenly arrest the child in the street, so as not to cause stress to the child and inflict him with irreversible mental damages. Following that, children will be sheltered in centres which according to the Guidelines which have been set up for short-term, midterm and long-term residence. Short-term residence can be in the form of quarantine so that the conditions of the children and their families are assessed in a short period of time.
According to the Guidelines, many departments must carry out their duties towards the empowerment and improvement of the living conditions of children and their families. For example the Health Ministry must take the duty of providing medical services and the Employment Ministry must take charge of facilitation of employment for the families of these children. The subject of monitoring the implementation of the Guidelines is with the Welfare and Social Security High Council, to which reports on the implementation of the Guidelines will be submitted, but are faced with shortfalls in this regard too.
In the recent years, an official body made up of 16 Ministries and governmental organizations, NGOs representatives, Judiciary representatives, observers from the Islamic Parliament and the Theological Seminary (Hoze-Elmieh), Bar Association representatives, all of whom pay attention to the aspects of children’s rights.
Civil Institutions’ Objections
NGOs being active on children’s rights in Iran has resulted in the government and executive and judicial bodies not to be distant from the thought and research environment of this organizations. And these organizations can efficiently monitor children’s rights developments and challenge the government and executive bodies towards fulfilling children’s rights.
From the outset of the formation of the “collecting of street children” plan, many NGOs active in children’s rights criticised some aspects of this plan. According to many civil society activists, taking children off the streets is not possible without trying to change social and economic interactions.
The main criticism of activists against “collecting street children plan” are as follows:
- Lack of coordination among responsible organs in the process of collecting children
Attorney at law and head of the board of diretors of Association for the Protection of Children’s Rights, Motahareh Nazeri says: “According to the Managing of Street Children Guidelines, the main institution in charge is the Welfare Organization, but in the time that we have followed up on how the plan is implemented and our objections, we noticed that this plan is carried out in accordance with the Social Council approval, and the Governorate is at the head of this decision.”
She says: “Those in charge of the plan enter the implementation phase with the drawing of child labourers and street children slogan. After collection, they keep the children, which at times for a prolonged period, in centres which by nature must be for short periods, and after a while the children are released without really doing any work on them, and instead of the outcome of the plan being the organizing of the children and their families’ lives, they are in a way let out disorganized.”
- Omission of Child Labourers and their Entry into the Black Market
According to ISNA News Agency, children’s rights activists say: “As soon as the alarm bells of such plans are rang, many child labourers leave the streets out of fear; but after leaving the streets where do these children go? Most of them are the breadwinners of the family, and to provide living costs they have no choice to work under different conditions. Children rights activists who have been studying the conditions of these children say, the destination of most of these children is the black market and underground workshops.”
- Losing Custody, Matter of Dispute
Those in charge of this plan try to propose the principle of taking away custody of these children from their parents. On this basis in the event that a child is identified as having been removed from the streets three times in this plan, his or her parents will lose custody of the child. This has some serious supporters and opponents in front of the plan. In the Managing of Street Children Guidelines this has not been mentioned, and currently the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran do not give permission to child support governmental bodies to do such a thing.
But this situation can be a sign of the parents not having the competence for the custody of their children, and this is how the taking of custody away from the parents is proposed. Nonetheless some jurists believe this cannot be the sole reason to issue a custody court order, and there must be stronger reasons, because these types of children have families who live under terrible hardship and this cannot be a good reason to take custody away from the parents.
- Migrant Street Children
Most of child labourers are Afghan migrant children. Fundamentally these children, regardless of race ad nationality, suffer from common economic, social and family problems. Since Iran which is a member state to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and this Convention is within the Iranian laws and Article 22 of the Convention states that: “: Children have the right to special protection and help if they are refugees (if they have been forced to leave their home and live in another country), as well as all the rights in this Convention.” Therefore Iran is committed to observe protective laws for all children, be they Iranian or not.
Like other social problems, with regards to child labourers usually one factor is not effective, but a series of effective factors. If the economic factor is presented as the main factor, other social, family, and cultural factors too have a key role in the prelude to the reproduction of child labourers.
The criticism that activists give to the collecting of migrant street children plan is that the lack of careful review and implementation of plans which simultaneously deals with all aspects of the problems of migrant children.
Solution Recommended by Some NGOs
In spite of the existence of several parallel bodies on children’s affairs, the problem of child labourers has still not been resolved. Furthermore, the continued and long-term view and the setting of plans with implementation backings seems necessary. In the implementing field, bodies in charge in the Interior Ministry, Judiciary, Welfare Organization and other provincial organizations require serious coordination. Let us hope that with the implementation of the Social Supports Guidelines, most of the problems that currently exist in managing and supporting child labourers and street children are resolved.
The Justice Department’s Rights of the Child Convention Secretary too sees the solution in the further development of NGOs and believes that “the development of children’s NGOs must take place with the participation and support of the people, and the government cannot enter the scene as just a government body. The government’s approach in this regard too should be the strengthening and supporting of NGOs active in the field, particularly using their scientific and expertise experiences.”
It must be said that various civil society institutions and NGOs do not see periodic plans as the solution to the problem. It requires a practical planning and the use of the vast experiences of civil and governmental institutions. On the subject of children, in each province on average there are 10 to 15 NGOs and charities related to children, and many are active on children nationwide as charities.
Protection of Children’s Rights Association, Imam Ali Society, Protection of Child Labourers and Street Children Association, Pouya Educational Research Association, Association for the Protection of Women and Children Refugees, Protection of Child Labourers Association and many others are some of the NGOs that work in this regard, who through their activities try to reduce the number of child labourers and empower them and ultimately completely remove the child labour problem. Through partnership with governmental organizations, the ODVV has conducted numerous social damages projects. Furthermore, through its Raha Rehabilitation Centre, the ODVV concentrates in a specialised way to improve the conditions of suffering children. To-date NGOs have provided support for more than 10,000 children and their families. Also, the pursuit of the realisation of children’s rights through international conventions and domestic laws are some of the efforts of these NGOs.
By: Zahra Mirabian