Houses Help Runaway Girls
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.
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