Critique, Human Rights, Solidarity with Workers

We Demand Better for Our Children: End Child Labor in Iran

We created this poster – a collaborative effort by people younger and older worldwide – to show the kind of world that children in Iran, and all over the world, have a right to. The kind of world that we demand for our children.

And yet…

It is not the kind of world that many children in Iran experience. For children who are forced to work, the world depicted in this poster remains nothing more than a fairy tale.

Half a century has passed since the UN Covenant on the Rights of the Child (1) has been signed, yet the situation for children in Iran has reached an unprecedented low. Though Iran is sitting on the world’s second largest oil reserves, due to a fundamentally corrupt political and socio-economic system of government, it fails to provide for the most essentials needs of the children who live there.

At a time in their lives when they should be in classrooms and playgrounds, learning and enjoying life, an unacceptable proportion of children in Iran are forced to work in deplorable and often dangerous conditions. This atrocity destroys children’s health, contributes to illiteracy and destroys the chance for a better life for thousands and thousands of children. The tragic proportion of child labour in Iran perpetuates a cycle of poverty and ignorance, degrades innocent lives, and guarantees a socially and culturally retrogressive future.

In this year’s May 1st Joint International Workers’ Day Declaration, 10 independent workers’ organizations in Iran issued a demand on behalf of child laborers:

10. Child labor should be eradicated, and all children, regardless of the economic and social standing of their parents, gender, national, racial, and religious backgrounds, should enjoy equal and free education, welfare, and health care benefits.

In solidarity with these workers’ demands, and with working children in Iran, we demand that the ILO refuse to seat the Islamic Republic of Iran at this year’s annual meeting. Our children deserve at least that much respect and recognition of their condition.

Write to to demand that the Islamic Republic, which flagrantly and unapologetically violates Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (2), deserves no seat at the table of the International Labor Organization.



Khodnevis reports that:

According to official statistics published in 1385 by the Iran Census Bureau, from a total of 13,253,000 thousand children ranging from 10 to 18 years old, 3,600,000 children do not attend school, and 1,670,000 children were directly involved in work. About 80 percent of those children who work constitute street workers. Many children’s rights advocates in Iran dismiss these figures as unrealistic. Many of these activists think that in addition to economic poverty, the policies of the Islamic Republic are also another reason for the increase in the number of working children.

(translation via MrZand)

Because the reliability of the quantitative data on the phenomenon of child labor is in question, we refer the reader to qualitative data collected by child rights activists in Iran:

Children laboring at a pottery workshop on the outskirts of Hamedan

“Work here is very hard, all day, whole year, yet our wages are less than the older ones. We don’t have a contract, and they decide how much to pay!” These are words of Ali-Reza, 13 who works in one of the Hamedan potteries. His younger friend Mohammad, who is only 9 but who because of hard work looks smaller than his age, adds: “Here I have to come to work at 5 am before every one else to prepare breakfast, and at 12 pm clean up the shop.” He continues, stammering, “If I loiter, they beat me as well as deduct from my wages!”

Sara, another juvenile working here, says: ”We have neither light nor ventilation, it is very cold in winter, and hot in summer. Our employer is rarely here. For each flowerpot we get 200 tooman, and if we manage to make 5 a day it would be 1000 tooman. We bring food from home.”

Amin, 8, who is pushing a wheelbarrow, seems very weak and skinny. When I asked him why he is working here, he got scared and mumbled: “My dad is dead, we are poor, I can’t go to school.” He had tears in his eyes and couldn’t talk more.

Children working at an automotive shop in Sanandaj

Sirvãn, who is 14 years old, is washing a car. The temperature outside is -15° C (5° F)! He must clean up the car which has just been repaired, and prepare it for delivery. Arsalãn, his co-worker, who is the same age, is trying to clean his face with his shirt. He says, “I start work at 7a.m., before the others start; I have to prepare the shop and the tools.”

Mohammad, age 9, has a big pot of oil in front of him. He is rubbing engine parts in oil. He says “My father is a construction worker. He doesn’t earn enough for the family. As the oldest child, I have to work. In the mornings, I take my little sister to school, and then come to work. I clean engine parts.”

Arsalãn says, “We work longer hours than the older ones, but they tell us that our work is less and easier, therefore we get paid less. We can’t do anything about this. If we complain, they will tell us to find another job. Some time ago, Sirvãn nearly got hit by a truck, but he got a beating from the employer for not being careful! Hygiene in the shop is non-existent. We do not have anything to get rid of the dirt and oil from our hands.”

One of the adult workers adds, “In the winter, we make open fires to keep warm. The owner doesn’t provide heating and we don’t have shade in the summers. Sirvãn should be glad that in the summer, he can at least cool himself while washing the cars.”

Children working as scavengers at a warehouse off of Khavaran highway in Tehran

Scrappers bring what ever they manage to collect here: metal, bread rests, plastic bags. The manager checks the workers’ bags one by one: different articles are weighed separately, and for each one the workers get a mark in a logbook; on this basis workers get paid. Two shanty rooms stand right in between two mountains of garbage; these are where the workers rest. For those exhausted little children who have scavenged restlessly amongst garbage of the city, these rooms are like four star hotels.

15 people sleep in these two rooms of 2×3 meters each. The room’s furniture has also been gathered from the city dumps. Blankets, pillows, kettle, even posters of football, body builders, movie stars too! Garbage not only provides their livelihood, but even gives them shelter. The walls of their rooms are made of old rusty tin foil, cardboard, and nylon bags. The rooms are infested with flies.

I don’t hold my breath, in order to experience what these children live with. The stink is unbearable.

The youngest boy in this establishment is only 8. His name is Heydar and he is an Afghan. Gathering between 20 to 30 kilos of paper and cardboard, he earns about 8000 tooman a day. The champion of these kids is a 14 year-old boy called Hashem. He brings a load of 70 kilos a day and earns 12000 tooman. In this establishment, the stronger ones collect metal and earn more. Kids tell me that Hashem doesn’t touch anything but scrap metal. Without exception, all of the kids in the establishment look up to him: they wish to earn as much. When I tell them they deserve better, they disagree and seem to be content with what they have.

Organizations working on behalf of children and child workers in Iran include:
The Society to Defend Street Children
Association for the Protection of Child Laborers
Shayeste Kodakan

(1) The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. It is available in Farsi (pdf), Farsi (pdf, child-friendly version), English, English (pdf, child-friendly version), French, Spanish, and Arabic, as well as in numerous other languages.

(2) Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:
(a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;
(b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
(c) Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of the present article.


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