By Amir Hossein Miresmaeili
September 25, 2021
A social sciences expert with in-depth knowledge of Iran has disputed official figures about the number of children who have been left as orphans after losing one or both parents to coronavirus, stating that the actual figure was somewhere closer to three times the stated number.
The social affairs deputy for Iran’s Welfare Organization, Habibolah Masoudi Farid, told Jam-e Jam newspaper on September 19 that one or both parents of 51,000 children had died from coronavirus, leaving their children without any guardians.
But in an exclusive interview with IranWire, Mostafa Eghlima, the president of Iran’s Scientific Association of Social Work, called the performance of the country’s Welfare Organization in recent decades “shameful” and said: “They do not have enough power and expertise to improve the situation of orphans and they do not have enough funds.”
In July, news site France 24 reported ”an estimated 1.1 million children globally experienced the death of a primary caregiver as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic,” based on research published in The Lancet medical journal.
The Welfare Organization deputy head Habibolah Masoudi Farid said the figure included 51,000 Iranian children.
When a Jam-e Jam newspaper reporter asked the official how many orphaned or affected children the organization had supported, he failed to provide a number, stating that the Ministry of Health had ignored the organization’s requests to take these children into its care.
Mostafa Eghlima, who in addition to his role at the Scientific Association of Social Work is a sociologist and social worker with a doctorate in social sciences from the Sorbonne University in France, and who is often referred to as the “father of social work in Iran,” claimed the statistics provided by the Welfare Organization were simply inaccurate. “Not only is Mr. Masoudi Farid’s statement about the number of children orphaned by the coronavirus not correct, but I also think the figure of 30,000 women in charge of households and not living with a husband and waiting to receive a pension is incorrect,” he said. “The actual figures are many times higher. All over the world, when figures are announced about an issue, the source of that research is also published, along with the research’s margin of error. But the Welfare Organization does not provide such explanation. In my opinion, the number of children orphaned due to coronavirus is three times greater than the number the organization declared.”
He added that the Scientific Association had conducted its own research throughout the country, and much of it disproved official statistics.
Child Labor on the Rise
“The task of the Welfare Organization is not simply to provide statistics, but also to say what it has done for these children and to give an explanation as to why it has failed to put an end to child labor, which is on the rise, by supporting and providing social and cultural services,” said Eghlima. “Many of the children we see on the streets on a daily basis are orphans who have been forced to work. It is a lie to brand them as members of street gangs. The Welfare Organization should, of course, have a plan for orphans and be able to predict how many children will be orphaned in the next six months. It should ask the government for funding to support them, and then know what to spend the money on. For example, the Scientific Association of Social Welfare has repeatedly written to the Welfare Organization and the Ministry of Welfare and explained that our experts across the country are willing to help by conducting research and data collection or by providing social services for free, but they refused, because they are not willing or determined to solve the problem.”
Dr. Eghlima also said the increase in poverty and the number of homeless children will cause serious harm to the younger generation, creating even greater unmanageable social ills.
If the government does not take immediate action to support people suffering from dire economic problems and to prevent the collapse of even more families, Iran’s future will be extremely bleak, Eghlima said. He also drew comparisons to North Korea, pointing to a double bind of isolation and poverty.
“We should not allow the number of working and homeless children, who are exposed to moral corruption and crime, to reach this astronomical figure,” Eglhima continued. “What solution do managers have to stop children working? Have municipalities been brought in to help? And if so, are these children like garbage just waiting for collection? We need to solve the root of the problem and send these children to school and then on to university. Poverty can be reduced by increasing budgets for social and welfare issues. I know that next year at least 20,000 poor and affected families will be added to the current figures, so how is it that the country’s leaders do not know this? Why are they not planning so as to prevent it? As long as the country’s economic situation continues in this way and there is no meritocracy to elect people to handle these serious social issues, the situation will continue to get worse day by day.”
A Ban on Help
In recent years, numerous sociologists in Iran have been arrested for taking part in relief work and getting involved with social problems, a clear indication that the country’s security and judicial authorities are more determined to block out news about social malaise and crises than they are to mitigate it.
Fariba Adelkhah, Reza Jelodarzadeh, Saeed Madani, Atefeh Rangriz, Meymant Hosseini Chavoshi, Kavous Seyed-Emami and Najmeh Vahedi are just a few of those who have been arrested, and who have faced flogging and imprisonment. Seyed-Emami died in custody in 2018.
“As long as the people who manage the welfare institutions are not social workers themselve, and do not understand the serious problems and shortcomings, the situation will not change,” Mustafa Eghlima said. “It is strange that the deputy head of the welfare organization does not know how many orphaned children have been supported during the outbreak of coronavirus, or to what extent have they been supported, if at all. We know that in many cases, the child is delivered to his paternal or maternal family and they receive a monthly amount of about 200,000 tomans [$7]. Is it possible to raise a child on this amount, and to send him to school? Where is the psychological and therapeutic counseling for the child? It is no wonder these children, having suffered the worst abuse, end up on the streets or working over brick kilns in no time at all”.