Needy Youngsters Live On City Streets
By Azam Gorgin/Charles Recknagel
Recent reports in the Iranian press that 100 to 150 street children
die each month have shed new light on the plight of small children
who are forced to work on the streets. In part one of a two-part
series on Iran's street children, RFE/RL correspondent Azam Gorgin
describes the children's plight and efforts to help them.
Prague, 7 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's daily "Dowran Emrooz"
reported last month that Tehran has 25,000 to 30,000 children forced
by adults to live and beg on the street or work as slave laborers in
The paper said the death rate among street children is high, from
100 to 150 a month. The cause of their deaths varies from
malnutrition to diseases brought on by unsanitary conditions.
In other Iranian cities, the plight of street children also makes
headlines. The daily "Ghods" wrote recently that in the
western city of Arak there are enough children aged 6 to 15 begging
on the streets to obstruct
both passenger and car traffic.
Our correspondent called a group in Tehran which aids street
children to learn more about their lives and what resources are
available to help them.
Shirley Najafi of the Society to Protect the Rights of the Child
says that the parents of many of the street children are drug
addicts. She says others are jobless immigrants, and still others
give birth to numerous children simply to exploit them for work.
of these families give birth to these children for sheer
exploitation to work for them, or some are Afghani immigrants with
the excuse that these kids don't have birth certificates and cannot
go to school, and so they send them to work on the street. Some are
from Bangladesh, and they are all over Iran."
Najafi's society -- a charitable organization supported largely by
contributions from ordinary citizens -- seeks to help the children
by providing them with meals and vocational training. That puts her
in daily contact with the children and the scope of their problems.
Najafi said she considers the children who sleep on cardboard on the
sidewalks, in parks, or in vacant and dilapidated buildings to be
luckier than those who remain at home with exploitative parents.
"We have cardboard sleepers, some have families, but I think
those cardboard sleepers are better off than those with families
because the [parents are] addicts and they usually have a very
small, dark and damp room and terrible living conditions."
Najafi says the children usually are forced by their parents into
begging. But some children are brought to Tehran by traffickers who
have rented them, or kidnapped them, from rural families to put them
to work as beggars or menial laborers.
Najafi says that smaller children often are put together with older
ones and taken in a group to places throughout Tehran, including the
wealthier northern districts, to collect money from passers-by. If
they don't collect enough, they are punished.
"These kids are scattered all over the place, on the northern
streets of Tehran, too. Sometimes they are put together with kids of
8 and 10 years of age, and are put to work to beg in the streets.
They have to collect money and then go home. Otherwise they are
beaten, burned or subjected to other physical punishment."
The adults who exploit the children often train them for criminal
activities, including selling illegal drugs and alcohol. Much of
that activity goes on in one of Tehran's poorest areas, known as
Davarzeh Ghar. Najafi says: "We have children who have been
trained to buy and sell narcotics. These kids pass on drugs and
alcoholic beverages and get involved themselves. In the park of
Davarzeh Ghar there is every possibility for these children to move
toward crime. Until now nobody has been able to overcome this
problem. And, we at [our society] are trying to ask responsible
organs to help with the situation, but our capabilities are very
Statistics about the fate of the children -- such as how many die
from disease or neglect -- are hard to confirm. But Najafi, who
works with the children closely, says that the death rate is three
to four each day. That coincides with newspaper accounts of 100 to
150 deaths a month.
She also says that estimates of the street children population in
Tehran could be higher than is often reported in newspapers.
"The statistic I hear is about 25,000, but I think there are
Social workers say the children's plight is aggravated by the fact
that the government provides little help to them. One reason is the
government's limited resources for dealing with social problems in
general, due to a weak economy and double-digit unemployment.
Another is that many of the children are from immigrant families who
are not citizens and so are not a priority.
That leaves the task of helping the children in the hands of
charitable individuals and groups. But they say they are overwhelmed
by the problem and can only do a small bit to help -- as we will see
in the second part of this series.
(The second part of the series on Iran's street children describes
the efforts of one charitable group to help them.)
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