Impact of Harassment & Imprisonment on Children of Human Rights Activists

Asieh Amini, journalist and human rights activist once said: ”Our children aren’t civil activists or political activists. Nevertheless they experience double the suffering. They first suffer when their parents’ activism makes them aware of the hostility and violence and cruelty that exist in society. Then they suffer from the political violence imposed on their parents by the state.”

“Mehraveh is 11. She reacts badly upon seeing a woman in a chador (the long, black cover for women in Iran). She says she hates them. Her little brother Nima is scared of the police. He says: “The police will punish you. They stop the car, they make children get out of the car and they put them into a cage,” says Reza Khandan the father of Mehraveh and the 3 year old Nima, and husband of Nasrin Sotoudeh, the prominent and courageous human rights lawyer who is currently serving long-term prison for her humanitarian work. Little Nima has met his mother, Nasrin, for only 35 minutes over the last 6 months.

The wife of the political activist, Ahamd Zeid Abadi told the author what happened when her 8 year old son saw the security guards take his father away: “When the anonymous government officers were forcing my husband into the car, my son was shouting from the balcony, “You idiots! You are stupid! Where are you taking my dad?”

Fatemeh AdinehVand, wife of political activist Abdollohah Momeni, said, “It has been 9 months since my children have seen their father. They have become quick tempered. When we visited the Evin Prison, they were pale and frightened.”Apart from the violence and the abuse that children of political activist suffer, UNICEF reported in 2003 that 31% of Iranian children under the age of five had been victims of punishment in their own home at least once.The Agency that protects women and children confirmed that in Iran 144,566 cases of child abuse were reported, over the first 6 months of 2010. The Children’s Protection and Children’s Rights Society in Iran confirmed that from the 9 million children under the age of 6, and 27 million under the age of 18, 200 cases of child abuse have been reported. This number includes; 20% physical abuse and 32% emotional abuse. 90% of these abuses have been committed by father, mother, and step father or step mother in a private space or family home.

Despite the increasing number of cases of violence committed by the state which are reported to human rights organizations, there has been no official record of violence against civil or political activists over the last two years. Iranian law in practice has no consideration for the mental health of activist’s children. Their parents cannot complain about the effects of their punishment on the children because they already are accused by the law and imprisoned. The children cannot meet with their arrested parents and experience violence from the officers in their personal home environment whenever they come to take the parent away.

The violence against children includes preventing the children from meeting their parents, children being intimidated by the guards and children meeting with their parents in the hostile prison environment. However, there is no official report about the increase in child abuse in Iran. In an interview with News Online, Mosa Ghorbanee, a member of the law committee in the Iranian Islamic Parliament asserted about children and youth rights: “Iran is one of the most advanced members of the Children Rights Convention and the current regulations in Iran are clear in the debate on child abuse because of the existence of Islamic punishment in child abuse, this subject has no place in the family support bill that is before parliament.”

A feeling of security is developed when a child’s subconscious is being formed. When security is considered not achievable, a child with a victim mentality often internalizes the problem in an attempt to survive. They may become more isolated, violent or not build avenues for communication.  A child’s conflict with society, which may accompany them all through their life, is not curable by using medication. So far no medication has been discovered for generating a sense of security.  Feeling insecure has a direct impact on learning ability. An anxious mind is not able to process new information. This can result in a learning disability and curtailment of a child’s social and emotional growth. The signs, when a child’s sense of security and mental health is being endangered, include: pessimism, isolation, irresponsibility, anger, eating disorders, loss of bladder and bowel control, falling school marks, finger sucking, nail chewing, skin scrubbing, restlessness and an inability to communicate or concentrate. “Even after 31 years the smell of smoke makes me anxious and depressed. My grandmother held my hand and took me to the backyard to burn all my father’s books, before the arrival of the secret police. My father was running to escape over the neighbour’s roof. Some secret police entered our house a few hours later. I didn’t see my father for more than 3 years after that. I was only nine years old.” “An extract from Behrang’s memoirs”.“Rose water fragrance makes me anxious. My father was executed and my mother was imprisoned for many years. Rose water fragrance reminds me of the meeting days of my parents in the prison prior to their execution.

After 30 years, I haven’t yet forgotten the smell of the rose water on the uniform of the prison guard (Pasdar),” said Bahareh. Iranian government has not yet made any attempts to include a treaty of children’s rights in its constitution. It has not established watchdog committee and guarantees to screen the implementation of Convention Children‘s Rights and by accepting conational children’s rights convention It has neglected international standards in creating a suitable life for children by taking the following actions: accepting a conditional children’s rights convention, then it has added various note to the original convention’s substance, rendering a different definition of “child”, discrimination against children, violence against children, right of life, living with parents, right of entering or exiting the country, learning rights etc. Therefore it, Iranian government has disrupted international standard aimed at creating a good life for children.

These violations by Iran occur where, under the articles 19 and 24 of the Children’s Rights Convention, which Iran has joined but added it is own conditions. Governments have an obligation to provide security and a healthy emotional and physical environment for children. Children have the right to live without fear and violence regardless of religion, gender, race or ethnicity. Committing violence by ministry of Intelligence and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Sepah pasdaran) against the human rights activists’ children and other children is the violation of children’s  rights as stipulated in Convention which Iran is a signatory and must adhere to. It is important that human rights organisation especially the United Nations Human Rights Council make the Iranian government accountable to the violation of the Convention alongside other human rights violation that they commit routingly.

Saba Vasefi is a researcher and a human rights activist. Among other work, she has made a documentary about child execution in Iran which  was shown at the UN in Geneva and at the Copenhagen film festival (DOX). She also made a multimedia documentary about the execution of “Shirin Alamhooliwho was a Kurdish political female activist. This work was also shown at the UN in Geneva.

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