June 12 is the World Day Against Child Labour, introduced by the International Labour Organization (the ‘ILO’) to promote awareness about, and activism against, child labour. The purpose of the ILO is to strengthen the global movement against child labour.
Currently, there are about 160 million working children in the world, the greatest share belonging to poorer countries and the Third World.
To commemorate the World Day Against Child Labour, we want to address the current child-labour situation in Iran, to discover how many of these children there are and what conditions fuel this great challenge.
According to unofficial sources in Iran, the number of working children in the country is more than one million. Since 2017, the figures of 60,000 or 70,000 are stated by some sources as the official statistics, but poverty and child labour have increased sharply in recent years. Apparently, therefore, many sources do not provide accurate figures. Due to the lack of reliable statistics and the Government’s lack of transparency in providing them, one can get no accurate sense of the scale of social harms, including child labour.
The number of street children in Tehran alone is estimated to be around 3,000.
Economic growth in Iran has remained very slow since the 1990s. In such a society, families face difficulties in supporting themselves. Therefore, the children of these families are forced to work or forced by their parents to earn incomes. A child who has no experience, knowledge or skills inevitably chooses a job such as scavenging, cleaning car windows, peddling in the subway or selling flowers, or a more difficult job such as working on a farm or in a workshop.
There is no reliable estimate of the number of working children in Iran. Different sources have given vastly different figures, ranging from 7,000 to 7 million. According to the most recent statement from the head of the Office of the Social Victims of the Welfare Organization, there are 14,000 working children in the country, with half of them having been identified. The latest official report on the activity status of children aged 10-17 showed that in 2016, approximately 499,000 of the 9 million children in this age group were either looking for work or working. According to UNICEF, approximately 160 million children around the world were child laborers in 2022, with Iran ranking 44th with a rate of 7.85%.
This table presents an overview of the conflicting statistics on child labour in Iran as extracted from Tejarat News report, an official newspaper.
|Date||Speaker||Estimate of working children|
|Recent years||Official statements||7 thousand to 7 million|
|2023||Head of the Office of the Social Victims of the Welfare Organization||14,000 (half identified)|
|September 2017||Member of Parliament||3-7 million all over the country, 20000 in Tehran|
|September 2020||Vice President of Social Affairs of the National Welfare Organization||70,000 street children|
|March 2021||Head of Social Emergency||14,000 street children (4,000 in Tehran)|
|July 2021||Head of Welfare Organization||16,000 working and street children|
|2022||UNICEF||160 million child laborers in the world|
|2019||Statistics Centre||Iran ranked 44th with 7.85%|
With conflicting numbers ranging from seven million to just seven thousand, the true extent of child labour in the country remains unclear and confusing.
Several factors have contributed to the rise of child labour, including poverty, difficulty in supporting one’s family, immigration, conflict, cultural practices, drug use, family dysfunction, and single or abusive parenting.
Child labour is linked to other social problems. In the past five years, the extent of social harm in Iran has grown because of severe economic inflation. The number of working children and the negative impacts of their labour have also increased. Economic struggles and failures have also contributed to the increase in social problems.
Child labour in the suburbs of Tehran
In Tehran, many teenage girls work in small tailoring workshops in neighbourhoods such as Marvi. They are required to sit and operate sewing machines for long hours in crowded spaces. These girls may work up to ten hours a day for very little pay. The workshops are often located in basements or on upper floors of old buildings in small, cramped rooms. This makes it easier for their employers to sexually harass and even assault them.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse is a common experience for working children in Iran. Although there are no official statistics on this issue, evidence suggests that a number of working children in the country are sexually abused. According to the Centre for AIDS Research, the rate of HIV-positive child labourers is similar to that of sex workers. Around 10% of sexually abused children in Iran contract HIV by the age of seven.
The garbage collection industry in Iran, which frequently employs child labourers (who are often undocumented immigrants), is being exploited by the so-called ‘garbage mafia’. The practice of garbage collection has become a family trade in Iran, meaning many of the scavengers are women and children. Some of these children are exploited by criminal gangs. A study on child exploitation estimates that there are around 4,000 children collecting garbage in the capital, Tehran. This is an increase of 1,000 compared to the previous year.
The daily income for garbage collectors is about 2,000 tomans, while the Tehran municipality alone earns 200 billion tomans from this work.
Approximately 3,000 children are working as garbage collectors in Ahvaz, according to a report quoted by ISNA. The report states that ‘garbage collection in Ahvaz has become a big mafia’, and that many scavengers are under the legal age.
In 1400, 800 child labourers were identified in Fars province. The Social Deputy of the Fars Province Welfare Organisation stated that most of these children are between six and seventeen years of age, and 16% of them are girls.
In addition to garbage collection, children sell flowers, chewing gum, paper towels and other items at intersections. They also clean car windows. This is a daily sight.
The Government does nothing to address this social issue – but it occasionally punishes these street children.
Additionally, many of these children are sexually abused daily by municipal officers.
Working children are paid 30,000 to 50,000 tomans per day by flower-shop gangs. Meanwhile, the Tasnim news agency reports that ‘the average daily income of each flower shop ranges between 1.5 million and 2 million tomans.’ Children who work in the flower and plant industry earn at least 1.2 million Tomans per month. The ‘florist mafia’ thus earns between 45 and 60 million tomans per month.
Child labour statistics in Iran, like statistics on the country’s other problems, are not accurately conveyed. The majority of statistics are based on the limited field research conducted by a select few organisations. The reason for this is a lack of transparency and a fear of questioning the Government’s actions.
However, if the Government fails to be transparent, the city’s streets tell the story. The number of working children in Iran exceeds official and unofficial statistics, and, as economic problems persist, it will continue to rise.