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 Halfway Houses Help Runaway Girls

A. Gorgin and C. Recknagel

Bad Jens, Iranian Feminist Newsletter, 21 November 2000

Like many other countries, Iran has its share of teenagers who take to the streets as their only refuge from problems at home. They become voluntary outcasts of society, frightened, and looking for ways to survive in Tehran, where the size of the city preserves their anonymity.

The fortunate ones find their way to a network of shelters for runaway girls in the capital and other major cities operated by municipal officials. Since the shelters were established in 1998, some 450 girls have passed through them. Often the shelters are the only safety net to keep the girls from being exploited as prostitutes or turning to crime.

Our correspondent spoke by telephone with the operator of one of the halfway houses in Tehran, called "Khaneh Rayhaneh" [or "Little Basil Leaf House."] Mojgan Shirazi, the house's deputy director, is a family counselor and sociologist who works there full-time.

Shirazi says the girls are either from broken homes with stepparents who abuse them or they are from homes where one or both parents are drug addicts and have turned the children into go-betweens with drug dealers.

Poverty is also a major factor in creating problems for these young women. Some families in small towns or rural areas seek to marry off their daughters at a young age to escape the cost of supporting them.

"Also, girls from provinces in search of jobs and the glitter displayed on television come to Tehran, the capital city, and wherever they seek employment, they have to fulfill inappropriate requirements."

Shirazi says that runaway girls she has worked with range in age from 12 to 19. The vast majority -- 90 percent -- have no criminal records. Only 2 percent have records for drug use or possession.

"Ten percent of these girls come on their own initiative. Ninety percent are collected by our social workers placed in various train and bus terminals going from or coming into Tehran."

The halfway houses offer the girls and their parents psychological counseling and try to reunite them. The center where she works has the capacity to accommodate up to 40 people staying for varying lengths of time.

"We treat them through various psychological therapies, summon their parents, put them through counseling, then release them. We keep them under strict observation, visit them bi-monthly, until they reach normalcy."