Following the beheading of Romina Ashrafi, 14, by her own father and a spate of honour killings earlier this year, which sparked righteous indignation from the Iranian and global community, President Hassan Rouhani announced that relevant proposed bills would be expedited and passed.
The problem is that these bills only sound good, they don’t do good.
For example, the bill on Provision of Security to Women (PSW) passed to Rouhani’s administration in September 2019, was stripped of the limited content it contained about supporting women with officials admitting at the time that it “unlikely” to produce “a positive outcome”.
The Bill to Protect Children and Adolescents – passed on June 7 after 11 years of delays – doesn’t address any policies or laws that harm children and juveniles in Iran. It failed to allocate a budget to support child labourers, child widows or families living in poverty, to raise the marriage age of girls to anything above 13, or increase the age of criminal accountability for girls from nine.
The bill, first proposed in 2009, has been stripped of any power it had through subsequent amendments and long delays. It will not protect children even if it is enforced, although there is no real chance of that.
For one thing, it contains a passage on punishments taken directly from the original Penal Code, which leads us to believe that inflicting “physical, psychological, social, moral, security or educational” harm on a child was already illegal but the government wasn’t doing anything.
For another, it requires the Ministry of Education to report children who have not enrolled in school or who have dropped out, but as education is not compulsory or free, what good would this do? Turns out, they’re planning to make school compulsory, even though the Director of the Department of Education in Kermanshah admitted that the Education Ministry doesn’t have the budget to make it free, so this would further impoverish the Iranian people and increase deprivation for the children.
The bill also contains wording suggesting that the exploitation of child labourers would be penalized, but is this really true when many state-linked institutions benefit from child labour?
Worse still, in Article 9, there are horrific exemptions for parents who commit crimes against their children, like Ashrafi’s father, will only be sentenced to a maximum of five years. Five years for the murder of a child, while anti-establishment protesters are often given excessive punishments such as long-term imprisonment, severe fines, lashes, etc.
This bill is likely to do more harm than good to Iranian children. Do not applaud it. A fundamental change in Iran’s political structure, which certainly begins from the tarmac, is the only way to protect children.