Child labor is a tragedy to those forced into it, but it has also become the norm every day in the streets of Ahwazi cities. People are so used to it that they barely give it much thought, even though those children are doing dangerous and heavy work every day with their little hands. The world seems indifferent to them, whilst their world revolves around selling balloons, gums and waxing shoes to help their families survive.
In the searing heat of Ahwaz, there are poor children who have to walk through the streets wearing worn clothes and plastic slippers that cause painful blisters on their feet. They have to keep on walking until someone takes pity on them and buys the few things they have to sell.
A child rights defender from Ahwaz who gave his name only as Adel speaking to the Herald Report said, “let me tell you stories of Ahwazi children labors that I documented them during last month. “The first is Yasmin. I ask her name and she longingly looked at the bottle of water in my hand, stretching her hand out for it and replied ‘Yasmin’. After I gave her the bottle she went on her way, no more than 7 years old and begging every passerby to buy some of her flowers, posters, and gum.”
“Yasmin is only one of the hundreds of child laborers in Ahwaz. If you call her a child, she does not know what that is. She has never known a childhood, like most children in the West, are lucky to have. She only knows what it is to work.”
“Raghad is another of these children who sells flowers. While hiding her hair under a black-haired scarf, she comments that she is 11 years old and she thinks if she were able to go to school she might be in the fourth grade now. She’s not sure, it might be the fifth grade but, because their family has no money, she can’t go to school and has to work instead. She says her father is ill, the doctor says he eats too much sugar and both his feet have been amputated so that is why she has to work. When this happens, she says, she promised she would help and last week she earned enough money to make him happy, upon which he bought her a hair clip and a sandwich.”
“Instead of going to school, Khaled and Yasser spend hours each day rummaging through houses in search of trash to find pieces of plastic or anything they might sell, even dry bread, to make a little bit of money for their families.”
“They both say that, years ago, they were once good students but Khaled, 11, and Yasser, 12, had to quit school and earn a living when their fathers lost their jobs.”
“Jasim, only five years old, is selling balloons in the street. Once, he says, I sell all of my balloons, I can go home, but this Thursday and Friday I got home very late because I went to many graveyards and washed dirty gravestones with a rag and water so that the families of the dead would give me some money. He paused and his eyes filled with tears. He said ‘uncle, may I tell you something, but don’t think badly of me?’ I told him please do, you can trust me and he said I am brave, but when it gets dark in those graveyards I get scared and run home fast, but I have bad dreams about those cemeteries”.
Ahwazi children today are isolated and brutalized in a way their international peers will never be. They are deprived of basic rights guaranteed for all children in every other part of the world. Childhood in Ahwaz does not consist of playing and enjoying the simple basics of life, let alone luxuries. Rather, it is synonymous with repression, deprivation and poverty which face everyone in Ahwaz. The suffering of our children is incessant.
What causes this is rampant poverty. Children in Ahwaz have to struggle to earn a few pennies that enable them to help their families, in dire need. Because of this, they have to drop out of schools, can’t play, be educated or get healthy school meals. Many describe this as like living in a big prison.
The root cause of poverty in Ahwaz is due to the racist and repressive policies being enacted by the Iranian regime against the Ahwazi people, having a direct effect on its vulnerable, powerless, voiceless children.
This report from Ahwazna TV brings the story of Ahwazi child labor Mohand, 13 years old, who is another victim of these policies. Instead of going to school, like his peers across the world, he is obliged, due to his family living in poverty, to work on the streets, where he cleans car windows.
Mohand is cleaning car windows despite living in one of the most oil-rich regions of the world. The Iranian regime has seized those resources, because they make up nearly 85% of the Iranian economy. They care nothing for the devastation left behind and, in fact, intended it.
Mohand is therefore just one example of the testament to the crimes of the Iranian regime. His work starts early in the morning and sometimes does not end until 2.00 a.m. the next morning. He is forced to do this to help his blind, elderly father and his poverty-stricken mother. Poverty has devastated Mohand ‘s life, depriving him of his childhood.
Passersby always find Mohand sleeping in broad daylight on the street. He can also frequently be found trying to rest against a lamppost due to his exhaustion.
Any rest he gets is taken in the middle of rush hour traffic with horns blasting across the city.
You don’t need to ask him any questions about why he does what he does – it is obvious from his appearance.
Mohand has never been to school and he never will. His family lives in destitution. They can’t afford to pay for food, let alone school. His brother died and his sister got married, after that he had to go to work to even buy vegetables to survive.
Those like Mohand in Ahwaz are countless.
A 21-year old girl says in this video report that they are living on ‘collecting dry toast’. She says she and her sisters spend the entire day doing this.
“We work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.” says the girl.“I am a girl. What can I do? I have no other choice”, another girl said.
Asked about her father, the 21-year-old said that he was ill and unemployed.“We earn very little money. We cannot even earn our living although we walk tens of kilometers,” the girl said. She noted “I have three sisters and one brother. Naheed is 14 years old. Nastern is 12. Zeinab is 16. And our youngest sibling is still a three-year toddler.” The anchor who interviewed those girls says: “Your sisters should have gone to schools. This is their basic right. They should have even learned the Persian language.”
Another woman appeared in the video as saying: “We are unregistered. We never went to schools.” The anchor, named Effat Jawadi, said: “To the officials. I don’t know whether they are paying attention to these tragedies, but I wonder what is stopping them for addressing the problems of the people of Ahwaz.” “Whether you are a governor, head of a city, head of municipality or a charity official, you have some control over the resources of the state. Do you know that there are many Ahwazi families who are in desperation?
Surely it is the government’s role to help them, the presenter also noted. “Please, don’t ignore these families who are struggling honorably to try and earn a living,” she continued. As she concluded the video, Jawadi called on officials to protect the people of Ahwaz and help them fulfill their needs from the national resources of the region.
“If there is an official whose heart feels for those people, he should come along and help them,” she stated. “They are living in a resource-rich city.”
Living in poverty, the children of Ahwaz face a bleak future – with child labor, no education and bearing the heavy brunt of state-sponsored negligence. Yasmin, Raghad, Khaled, Yasser, Jasim, and Mohand are only a few of the little children who will be hoping that someone will listen to, and act to alleviate their suffering. The Iranian colonization of Ahwaz has completely plundered its resources. The regime seized them and, denying any source of living to most Ahwazis causing them to become jobless and homeless.
By Rahim Hamid , an Ahwazi freelance journalist and human rights advocate who mainly writes about the plight of his people in Iran.