The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June 2002 to focus attention on child labour and the action and efforts needed to eliminate it. Unfortunately, this has become a devastating phenomenon in resource-rich Iran under the rule of the mullahs. The event exhibition and a video briefed the audience about the extent and cruelty of this issue in Iran.
The speakers also talked about it including Azadeh Hosseini, a mother of two young children and a secondary school head teacher. Excerpts of her speech follow: I would like to thank you all for being here and for your endeavours in improving the lives of women and children in Iran. My parents came to the UK as refugees when I was three years old, and my sister was just two months old, knowing that Iran was not a place to raise their daughters. Unfortunately, however, for other young women and girls the harsh life under the mullahs is a bitter reality. Trafficking and exploitation of young girls, some the same age as my own daughter, is commonplace. An unprecedented number of Iranian girls are being forced into child marriage as you know, and this is mostly due to poverty. This issue sparked a renewed wave of outrage in February after an eleven-year-old girl was repeatedly raped after being forced to marry a man forty years her senior, who already had a wife and seven children. Sadly this is not uncommon, and what is worse is that there seems to be little outcry about this atrocity. Child marriage is just one area where the treatment of women in Iran has prompted concerns. Iran is a country where women are harassed to the extent where it is not even safe to go to work, where women are executed for simply defending themselves against rape by those in power. Those who rise up against injustice against women and children are faced with a harsh prison sentence. As you’ve seen from the videos, not a day goes by without a new clip being shown of Iranian children either selling chewing-gum and other items in order to feed their families, or children playing instruments on the streets to collect loose change to pay for their parents’ medical bills, or other clips where children describe how they take it in turns to go to school with their siblings, as their parents cannot afford to buy them each a pair of shoes. Or there are other videos of mothers and children sorting through rubbish to find food to fill their empty stomachs. As a young mother, it is such things that break my heart into a million pieces, and bring tears to my eyes. Whilst those in power in Iran line their pockets and use the Iranian wealth to fund terror groups, these innocent children are being robbed of their dignity and their youth on a daily basis. These children are a generation who would be left damaged and broken whose scars will run deep and may never heal.
As a teacher I am left wondering how will these children one day try to overcome the mental and physical scars inflicted upon them. I often remind myself that these could have been my children, with no food, no shelter or shoes to line their sore feet, forced to marry when very young because I had no means of supporting them – oh how life could have been so different for me! What a shame, and how sad it is to be speaking such words in the context of a country with such a proud history and such a proud people, a country whose oil should see to the needs of the Iranian people ten times over. Even thirty-five years ago when my parents left the country, they could not have imagined what would become of the country that they loved, and what would become of the situation of women and children of their homeland. Fortunately, the work of organisations such as International Liberty Association, whose work I am proud of, brings this to light. We are all here because this issue has touched us in some ways, and I am so grateful to each and every one of you for being here.
Another speaker at the event was Dr Davina Lloyd: Before I begin I wanted to say two thank-yous. First thank you is to all my Iranian friends. This might seem a strange thank-you, but before I knew them I knew nothing about Camp Liberty. But what they gave me was the chance to save the lives of other human beings, and I think the one thing you can do in life, the best thing you can do in life, is to save the life of somebody else, and there is nothing
better than that; and then, to top it all, they let me go to Albania and meet the people whose lives I’ve saved, and that was overwhelmingly joyful, and for that I say thank you to them all. And I also want to thank you all, everybody here, for everything you do to support this wonderful organisation and for everything you’ve done in the past to make sure that our friends escaped that dreadful, ironically-named Camp Liberty. I think we all know that the current regime of mullahs are only interested in expanding their misogynistic and very cruel version of Islam across the world. And because they obviously have different world-view to everybody else, they see that the best way to do this is to increase their population from 82 million to 150 million, when everybody else in the world is trying to cut back on the expanding population. Now the slight problem with this is, if you want an instant increase in babies being born, all you can do is take young girls, girls under the age of eighteen, to older men, and that is the state-sanctioned view of what you do with little girls. And so currently 17 per cent, that’s almost a fifth, of all marriages in Iran, are with young girls under the age of eighteen, and one million of those marriages are with girls aged ten to fourteen. And the whole idea is to get them pregnant and expand the population of an Islamic state. I myself, as a biology teacher, I know that it is not right, either physically or mentally, for young girls to be having children at such a young age, and the problems that will then come to them, both physically and mentally, afterwards are extreme; and it is a most awful form of child torture. The consequence of that is that the suicide, or attempted suicide as well, of all these young girls has considerably increased. We have to do something to stop that. The second thing of course, as you saw, is all the problems with work. These girls have a particular problem because they don’t often stay married. Once they’ve done their bit, once they’re no longer virgins, these older men move on to the next one, and there are huge numbers, something like 40,000, very young girls divorced before they get to eighteen. The problem they’ve got is that they’re now on the scrapheap. Nobody wants them, and how on earth are they going to get any work, except on the streets, because they haven’t got any education, because at marriage the education stops as well ? And they’re not the only ones that don’t get the education. It’s hard with Iran to get hold of actual figures except for the ones that they give you themselves, but there are about 3.2 million children who don’t get any education and about seven million of those actually work on the streets. The average life expectancy on the streets is ten and that’s because, not only do you become ill because of the life on the streets, but you are trafficked. You are rented out for sex. You are sold and sold for your organs as well, and there are no laws to prevent any of this happening whatsoever. So the situation for a child in Iran is appalling. I just wanted to say that I give to a number of charities and I’m involved in a lot of charity work, and the ILA is the only charity that I give to that I know that none of the money I give is going to some executive in charge. I know it’s going out there to do good work and I have seen the consequences of their work myself. So children are our future, that’s what it says. Let’s help them. Thank you!
Ehsan Gharaei: Life for the children of political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and those of them on death row is miserable and sad. Most of these kids suffer from depression and anxiety. These pressures have destructive effects which hurt these children during their whole life. I and my sister Amina were in this category. My parents were both teachers. After the revolution in 1979, like all Iranians, they were active to build a democratic and free Iran, but very soon they realised that the mullahs were trying to establish a theocratic regime and in fact create an Islamic caliphate. Soon after, the regime started to arrest everybody who was against its fundamentalist mindset. As a result, many students, teachers, university lecturers and intellectuals got arrested. My parents were also among them. At the time when my mum got arrested, one-year-old Amina was with her. Both of them got transferred to prison and for a period of three months the jailers tortured my mother in front of her terrified daughter who was just screaming during torture sessions. Eventually they let my mum send Amina out of the prison to my grandparents. After three years, when my mum got released from prison, she went immediately to see her daughter and hug her, but Amina was running away from her while she was screaming, maybe because my mother’s face brought very terrifying memories back. At last, my father also got out of the prison and my parents decided to build their life from the start. This was the time when I was born, in the happy times, but the happy times didn’t last too long, because ten days after my birthday they arrested my father again, this time because he had a simple phone call from one of his friends who lived abroad. The regime’s court sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment, but two years later, in the massacre of the summer of 1988, he, alongside 30,000 other political prisoners got secretly executed by a fatwa which Khomeini issued. All of them were buried in mass graves and until this day no one knows the exact location of their graves. At the time of the execution, I was three years old, Amina was eight and my mum was thirty. Obviously I don’t have any memories of my father or those days, but Amina remembers everything and those memories and experiences have affected her life severely. The terrible conditions that Gabriella, the daughter of Nazanin Ratcliffe, is experiencing right now are very similar to what Amina went through 31 years ago. In the past 40 years, thousands and thousands of Aminas and Gabriellas experienced the same fate or even worse, and these crimes against Iranian children are still going on, but I believe that our efforts will eventually change the current situation. In that day, we won’t see any child working at factories or selling goods on the street. We will not hear in the news that a young bride committed suicide because of her forced marriage, and hopefully we will never, ever hear of a child growing up without knowing his or her parents. I have to thank all of you for listening to me, and also special thanks to International Liberty Association for arranging this event and for fighting for the rights of the Iranian children. Thank you!