Dr. Sahand Faez

The General Status of Child Labor in Iran

According to conventions 138[1] (1973) and 182[2] (1999) of the International Labor Organization, any work which will, may or can harm the child’s mental, physical or moral health is considered child labor and must be prohibited. This kind of work includes many forms from doing exhaustive household chores instead of going to school or playing with toys to drug trafficking and prostitution.

172 states ratified convention 138 on minimum age and 182 states ratified convention 182 on worst forms of child labor. On May 8th 2002 Iran also ratified convention 182. However, convention 138 has not been ratified yet. Nevertheless, Iran’s labor law is completely in accordance with these two conventions.

Article 79 of Iran’s labor law clearly states that any individual under 15 years of age is prohibited from doing any kind of work. Furthermore, articles 80 – 83 give specific directions through which a “teenage laborer” between the ages of 15 and 18 is allowed to work. Sadly, despite the existence of these laws, none are truly being enforced and many children and teenagers are sacrificing their childhood for less than legal minimum wage in dangerous and hazardous situations.

Iran’s first shortcoming when it comes to dealing with child labor is the lack of extensive and reliable data. Even though there are some surveys like the labor market survey (since 2005) or the household’s income expenditure survey (since 1987) they are either recent or no one has taken the effort to extract the information embedded in them regarding child labor. As of this moment, the number of studies on child labor in Iran hardly exceeds 20; many of the existing ones are only based on short ranged field studies covering not more than 200 children.

Given these limited databases, one still can see the severity of the child labor issue in the country. According to the statistics published by Iran’s Statistical Center, since 2005, nearly 1.3 million children between the ages of 7 to 17 were active in the labor market each year. 11 percent of this population were between 7 and 14 and the 89 percent left were teenagers (15 – 17).

Figure 1: Child Labor Participation Rate 2005 – 2017
Source: Iran’s Statistical Center 2020[3]

At the beginning of this period (2005) nearly 5 percent of children between 7 to 14 were actively seeking employment in the labor market. At the same time around 25 percent of children between the ages of 15 to 17 were also in seek of employment instead of focusing on education and human capital formation. These percentages mean 344,188 children under 15 and 2,051,232 children above 15 were looking for jobs.

Child labor is a clear human rights violation. Even if one child in a country is in search of employment it means the status of human rights in that country is under serious question. Yet at the year 2005, nearly 2.4 million children’s human rights were being violated in Iran.

As Figure 1 illustrates, in both age groups, the general trend has been descending. Active children between the ages of 7 and 14 declined to 84,466 children in the year 2017 from 344,188 children in the year 2005. For the ages of 15 and 17 the number of active children decreased to 691,163 in the year 2017 from 2.05 million in the year 2005. The significant decline in child labor supply in this period notwithstanding, the absolute numbers are still quite considerable. Especially, given the fact that the descending trend has change into an ascending trend since 2015.

Figure 2: Child Labor Unemployment Rate 2005 – 2017
Source: Iran’s Statistical Center 2020[4]

What is more significant here is the high demand for child labor. Especially for the age group who are legally prohibited from doing any kind of work at all. From the year 2005 until 2017 on average 93.87 percent of economically active children between 7 and 15 years of age were capable of finding a job for pay each year. The number began at 95.3 percent in 2005; it decreased almost steadily to 90.2 percent in 2012 and increased sharply to 96.2 percent in 2017.

The numbers are somewhat different for the age group of 15 to 17. The trend however, is almost similar. In the year 2005 among the economically active children belonging to the age group of 15 to 17, 82 percent were able to find paying jobs. The number decreased to 77.5 percent in 2010, but began increasing again until it reached 81.4 percent in 2013. Again, the tides changed and teenage employment rate dropped to 75.7 percent in 2016 and suddenly jumped to 80.4 percent in 2017.

To summarize, while Iran is one of the countries which ratified the convention 182 and has explicitly prohibited child labor and limited teenage labor in its labor law; child and teenage labor is still a non-negligible issue in Iran. As Figure 1 illustrates, child labor supply – though still high in absolute numbers – has decreased considerably. However, figure 2 clearly depicts the drastic high demand for child and teenage laborers which has increased in recent years.

Child Labor VS School Attendance

In some studies, such as Ranjan[5] (1999) or Dillon[6] (2012), child labor and child schooling are considered complete substitutes. The data on Iran, however, shows otherwise.  According to the figures depicted in the following figure, on average, each year only 55 children (7 – 14) out of every 100 children who left school, did in fact enter the labor market. The figure is 47 out of every 100 children for the age of 15 to 17. In other words, almost half the children who left the school each year, did so for reasons other than work.

Figure 3: Active Children out of every 100 Out of School Children 2005 – 2017
Source: Iran’s Statistical Center 2020[7]

The situation was much understandable in 2005. The tides, however, changed drastically over the years. In the beginning, about 80 percent of children between the ages of 7 and 14, left school to seek employment. Since then, we can see a sharp fall in the figure. In the year 2017 with a little increase from its amount in 2015, the share of active children from out of school children reaches 54.56 percent.

The situation for teenagers was more devastating from the beginning. In the year 2005 only 57.15 percent of out of school teenagers actually participated in the labor market. The figures declined up to 41.9 percent in 2015 and with a little increase, reached 46.38 percent in 2017. In other words, less than half of the teenagers in Iran left school in seek of employment. The rest actually had other reasons.

One of the main reasons for children leaving school in Iran is because they are forced into early marriage. Marriage at these ages is legally permitted as it is in accordance to Islam. However, child marriage in Iran is as in many other nations frowned upon by the people. Yet the statistics show that it is happening on a considerable scale.

On average 42,172 children between the ages of 7 and 14 are getting married each year. The figure for the age group of 15 – 17 is 502,809 children each year. The absolute number of children between 7 and 14 years of age who are married has increased considerably since 2005. In the beginning it was merely 26,402 children, but by the year 2017 it reached 71,415.

As for the children between the ages of 15 and 17, it was high in the beginning. In the year 2005 nearly 600,000 children in this age group were married. The numbers declined in the following years and dropped to less than 450,000 children. In other words, while the number of children under 14 who were married increased over the years, the trend was the opposite for the children above 14.

Figure 4: Married Children 2005 – 2017
Source: Iran’s Statistical Center 2020[8]

Quite interestingly, the trend for the share of married children from the children who leave school is quite different from the trend for the absolute numbers. First of all, the trend is upward for both the age groups. The share of married children in the total number of children who leave school kept increasing since 2005.

In the year 2005 merely 5 percent of children between the ages of 7 and 14 actually left school for marriage. However, in the year 2017 more than 45 percent of them left school to get married. It is better to say they were forced out of school into early marriage.

The trend for the age group of 15 – 17 was somewhat similar to the age group of 7 – 14. The numbers, however, were much higher. In the year 2005 nearly 17 percent of teenagers in Iran left school to get married. This number increased to nearly 33 percent in 2013 and finally became 29 percent in 2017. As one can see, in the end the share of married children in out of school children is much higher in children in comparison with teenagers.

Figure 5: Married Children out of every 100 Out of School Children 2005 – 2017
Source: Iran’s Statistical Center 2020[9]

Worst Forms of Child Labor in Iran

As I argued up to this point, child labor and school attendance are not exactly complete substitutes. There seems to be other reasons for children giving up their education. Reasons far worse than earning an income for a day’s honest work. One of them as shown above is to get married. However, the most worrisome are those children who leave school, but neither go to the labor market nor get married.

Figure 6: Children out of School by their Status 2005 – 2017
Source: Iran’s Statistical Center 2020[10]

On average, each year 22.66 percent of out of school children between the ages of 7 and 14 and 28.77 percent of out of school children between the ages of 15 and 17 have an “unknown status”.

Among the children belonging to the age group of 7 – 14 who left school, 14.39 percent in the year 2005 neither participated in the labor market nor were pushed into married life. This share kept increasing until it reached 40.93 percent in the year 2011 and again declined until it dropped to 9.5 percent in the year 2017.

The trend is quite different for teenagers. Since 2005 the share of teenagers with “unknown status” has never fallen below 24 percent nor has it exceeded 34 percent. Although there are some considerable fluctuations between 2005 and 2017, the interval is somewhat stable. In other words, every year at least 24 percent of children between 15 and 17 years of age left school for reasons other than marriage or work for money.

These “unknown status” children are in fact the most violated group when it comes to human rights or more specifically children’ rights. At best they or their parents don’t see any point in going to school given the devastating economic status of the country. Therefore, they simply pass their days doing nothing. Even if they are forced to stay at home and take care of house chores for no compensation, it still is kind of acceptable. One could argue that instead of formal education they are receiving street education which is on its own terms somewhat useful.

At worst, however, they probably are forced into illicit labor. Many of these “unknown status” children are actually participating in drug trafficking or prostitution. As a result, the life of a criminal will actually be forced upon them without their consent. Some of them may also be already dead for organ transplants which happens on a massive scale in Iran.

Concluding Remarks

This short essay was an effort to delve deeper into the issue of child labor in Iran. Therefore, the article began with discussing the supply and demand for child labor in the country. Given the statistical limitations, the time period is limited to 2005 – 2017. Child labor is considered a complete substitute for school attendance. Therefore, the argument was continued by discussing the rate of school attendance in the same time period. Finally, the essay discussed those children who are neither economically active nor are in school. These children could somewhat represent the share of children who are actually active in the worst forms of child labor.

As it was shown, the number of child laborers and also their share from the total number of children has been considerable sin 2005. It was especially more considerable for the age group of 15 – 17 which are legally allowed to work under certain strict conditions. However, less than 6 percent of them actually meet these conditions.

More devastating is the high demand for child laborers in Iran. The unemployment rate for children between 7 and 14 never reached 10 percent and was mostly less than 7 percent during the period of study. This rate for children between 15 and 17 was also considerably low. It never reached 25 percent and was less than 22 percent most of the time.

In the article it was also shown that child labor is not exactly a complete substitute for school attendance. Evidently, almost half the children who leave school do not participate in the labor market. Half of them (25 percent of total) seem to be forced into child marriage and the rest have an unknown status.

The most devastating violations of children’s rights actually happens to the children who belong to this “unknown status” category. They are either at home doing extensive house chores, or even worse. They could be active in drug trafficking and/or prostitution.

The author is currently a PhD Student of International Politics at the National Chung Hsing University and has completed PhD of Economics from University of Mazandaran. Sahand.faez@gmail.com

Notes


[1]              International Labor Organization (1973). Minimum Age (No. 138). Retrieved from: ILO (http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_ILO_CODE:C138).

[2]              International Labor Organization (1999). Worst Forms of Child Labor (No. 182). Retrieved from: ILO (http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:::NO:12100:P12100_ILO_CODE:C182:NO).

[3] Iran Statistical Center (2020). Results of the Labor Market Survey 2005 – 2017.  https://amar.org.ir/%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%87%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D8%B7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%8C/%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%B9%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D9%88-%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1/%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1#5585732-

[4] ibid

[5]              Ranjan, P. (1999). An economic analysis of child labor. Economics letters, 64(1), 99-105.

[6]              Dillon, A. (2012). Child labour and schooling responses to production and health shocks in northern Mali. Journal of African economies, 22(2), 276-299.

[7] Iran Statistical Center (2020). Results of the Labor Market Survey 2005 – 2017.  https://amar.org.ir/%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF%D9%87%D9%87%D8%A7-%D9%88-%D8%A7%D8%B7%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%B9%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A2%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%8C/%D8%AC%D9%85%D8%B9%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D9%88-%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1/%D9%86%DB%8C%D8%B1%D9%88%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1#5585732-

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] ibid

One thought on “Child Labor in Iran 2005 – 2017

  1. For me, this article is one of the most interesting and at the same time the most worrying problems in this field. The problem is exacerbated by the spread of the virus because the situation of many of these children is affected by unemployment at the community level. Due to the term mentioned in the article, this issue may cause many of these children to be in the unknown group in the future.

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