Children’s Rights in Iran

Mina Sadat Sharifian
L.L.M in Criminal Law & Criminology 2

Children’s rights in Iran have undergone various changes over the years. In the past, major gaps existed in the protection of children’s basic rights, although the new Penal Code does address these gaps to some degree. In Iran today, education is free and mandatory from age 7 through high school; during this period, children are under state protection. Despite compulsory education, many children do not have the opportunity to access education, because of difficult life situations. Often, orphans, children living in poverty, children of single-parent families, and children with drug addicted parents are forced to work in order to financially support themselves and their families. These children enter the labor market at very young age and because they lack adequate skills, they often fall into the trap of hawking and begging in exchange for unfair payment, and sometimes simply for a place to sleep and food to survive. Despite great efforts by government and non-governmental organizations to gather and support these children, many continue to face the grim reality of child labor. This unfortunate fact is evident in the streets around the country, especially in urban areas. Nevertheless, progress has been made in the field of children’s rights, which can be noted in governmental health and wellness services at schools, with completely free examination available for primary school children, and also provision of daily milk to improve children’s nourishment.

On the other hand, children’s rights are being violated in other ways. Violence against children occurs and some of this fades out of sight of public and governmental action in Iran. Corporal punishment of children occurs in schools where teachers have not received adequate training and in many homes. Children who commit petty crime offenses before age 7 are not considered to be responsible and judges generally allow the parents to discipline the children in their own way. For higher grade crimes, children go to juvenile correction centers where they are supervised with other youth and learn different skills to psychologically prepare them for returning to the community. One of the benefits of a Correction and Rehabilitation Center is protecting them from a criminal record. After serving their punishment period, the teenagers are able start a normal life without a negative history and so can be accepted by society.

The State Welfare Organization is responsible for protecting orphans by providing care in orphanages, which provide for standard life requirements and facilities until the children are ready for independent living. The Welfare Organization is sensitive about the custody of children, and so families seeking to adopt must have clear records to be eligible. However, the lack of coordination and cooperation between Welfare Organization and other agencies means that working children and street children are not fully covered. When parents get divorced, the mother is granted custody of children until they are 7 years old; once they reach 7 years old, they go to live with the father. Although if the parents agree, the mother can retain custody.

Property and Financial Rights for Children

Detailed civil law rules apply to the upbringing of children and management of their financial affairs. One of the most important rule in this context prevents minors or children from disposing of property. Although children are like adults in respect to all civil rights, they are not legally entitled to practice or enforce the law. A father and paternal grandfather are considered the natural guardians, and manage a child’s financial affairs. They are the child’s legal representative in all matters related to property and financial rights and their authority is unlimited. For example, the child’s natural guardian can sell his property and do transaction with his money.

A father or paternal grandfather could appoint an executor for his children who would act if the natural guardian died. An executor’s duties are divided into two categories: upbringing of children and property management. If there is no natural guardian or executor, the court will appoint a “guardian” to fulfill two main duties: 1) provide for the health and education of the child and 2) manage the child’s property.

Child Labor

Iran has not ratified international agreements regarding child labor, instead determining its own standards. A child in Iran cannot legally work under the age of 15, except in occupations considered safe (such as domestic work). International documents for preserving children’s rights include the 1959 Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention suggests child adoption and recognizes illegitimate children. For this reason, some countries refuse to join it. The Islamic Republic of Iran joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, but made the condition that provisions of the Convention that are in conflict with national law and Islamic principles would not be respected in Iran.

The Childhood Age Category

According to civil law that has followed jurisprudence, boys would be considered mature at 15 years old and girls at 9 years old. Article 4141 of the Civil Code, which provides for this determination, has been repeatedly criticized by lawyers because an individual who reaches maturity can assume administration of property if the individual is not insane or incompetent. Thus, a 9-year-old girl can pay for property, trade, and be punished for crimes—there would not be any differences in outcome between civil and criminal liability.

Children who are considered illegitimate are subject to a special regime; they do not have the rights of children resulting from a marriage. Therefore, illegitimate children do not inherit from their parents. Also, fathers of illegitimate child are required to obtain birth certificates for their children. The reason for this crackdown on illegal children is said to be done with the intention of preserving the family, but sometimes causes an innocent child to be responsible for his parents’ crime.