Child abuse case brings outrage, but no change in Iran

Alipour, Al Monitor, June 28, 2018

Just a
month after a high-profile child molestation case shook Iran, the outrage has
died down and very little is being done to prevent future abuse.
Baczynska, Tehran skyline as seen from Iran’s Interior Ministry, Tehran, Iran,
Oct. 24, 2016.

A man in
handcuffs is standing in front of the camera, haltingly giving a first-person
account of the pedophilia case that has shaken Iran for a
month: “Four or five students came into my office. … I had some obscene
images on my cell phone. … They saw them. … It was mostly a joke. … It only
went as far as touching …”

In the
background, angry male and female voices rise, expressing condemnation and
accusations. The man answers and denies some heavier accusations, such as
child rape.
The video, less
than a minute long, was published in the Persian-language media back on May
28. A few hours before this video spread, Khabar Online reported
on an incident that had taken place in a boys’ high
in western Tehran. According to the report, the
handcuffed man in the video was an official at the private high school
who “sexually harassed a number of students.”
This is
not the first child abuse
 to be picked up by the Iranian news media. But
it is a rarity for the story to be leaked to the press by desperate
parents who had feared that the case would be hushed up. One of the
parents who talked to Shargh said, “We decided to alert the media so we
could have some support. Now, however, it has gotten out of hand and [both the
parents and the school administration] wish that media had not gotten so
involved in this matter.”
attention has brought about a wider debate on education and related
legislation. But after a month, the result is little more than vague
promises and Iran appears to be sinking back to the culture of silence on
child molestation.
filmmaker Yaser Arab told Al-Monitor, “Sexual scandals are the
government’s Achilles’ heel. It doesn’t matter how many cases of sexual
harassment exist or how many children are being abused. They only become
important when they create an issue for the government. This is the painful
part. This atmosphere of silence and denial has made it impossible to
normalize the subject of sex education for kids, be it at school or
with parents.” Arab devoted four years, from 2011 to 2015, to making
A Simple
,” an in-depth documentary series on sexuality
in Iran.
The first
of 21 episodes was dedicated to children’s sexual education. In it, Arab
underlines that in order to fight child abuse, one must be able to talk
about it rather than avoid it as a taboo topic. He said that Iran is in a state
of denial on child abuse.
to Arab, no educational institutes showed any interest in his documentary.
The team took the documentary to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, but
it became clear that it would not show the documentary in full either. So
Arab put it on the Iranian video-sharing platform Aparat, where the
episodes reached 1.5 million viewers.
The state
TV’s documentary channel agreed to air some of it but asked that the
140-minute episode it planned to screen be shortened to 90 minutes. Even
after this adjustment, the episode still faced problems when it was aired
in January 2017. Arab told Al-Monitor, “The whole thing was very weird. The
host of the program, Ali Sadrinia, took me and a cleric, Mohammadreza
Zaeri, on as guests. The program’s host constantly offered false statistics to
prove that sexual education for children is ineffective and has instead
increased the rate of sexual promiscuity and unwanted pregnancies in the West.”
to Arab, some families who reside in northern Tehran are attending
private and semi-secret educational courses so they can respond
to sexual questions or detect it if their children face abuse.
parents who have the time and financial means can take advantage of these
expensive courses, which offer the type of education that is not yet found in
Iranian schools,” he told Al-Monitor. “However, what are we to do about the
middle- and working-class kids? Should sexual education be only available to a
certain class of society?”
In the
wake of the Tehran abuse case, the lack of proper sexual education including abuse for
schoolchildren was widely criticized by media, parents and some
politicians. Sociologists made
statements in the media about the importance of sexual education,
and officials in the Ministry of Education pledged to
the question of sexual education.
But the
issue of sexual education has become part of a larger question,
with conservative Iranians objecting to UNESCO’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
. The UNESCO guidelines, which include sexual
 in schools, became a sensitive and
controversial issue during the 2017 presidential elections. Conservative
media outlets
and individuals criticize the agenda as a tool that
“assists secular and open-minded movements to penetrate the Iranian educational
system and shape it according to Western standards.”
pressure and criticism, including open opposition by the supreme leader,
eventually blocked the
from being adopted. The recent child molestation case has
once again made the 2030 Agenda a hot topic of discussion and even a scapegoat.
Conservative politician Hossein-Ali
 took the parliament floor on May 30 to blame the
guidelines, saying, “The crime that has taken place in the high school in
western Tehran is the result of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, which is
being sporadically implemented in various locations.”
The case
also opened debate on whether Iranian laws protected children sufficiently from
abuse. Iranian
 emphasized the importance of passing new
legislation in support of children’s rights, and Iran’s Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked officials to punish the accused according
to Sharia, which may include lashing, imprisonment, exile or the death
penalty. On June 12, Gholemreza Mansouri, an official from the Public
Prosecutor’s Office, told Tasnim News that the case has
eight plaintiffs
and the defendant is accused of
“promoting corruption and child abuse,” not rape.
molestation has only recently been considered a crime in Iran. The
term entered Iran’s legal vocabulary in January 2003 with the passing of
a law regarding rights of
children and adolescents
to Monica Nadi, a lawyer and member of the legal committee of the Association
for the Support of Children’s Rights in Iran, the 2003 law still falls short of
protecting children. A stronger law was formulated in 2011 but has been awaiting
 for almost seven years. According to Nadi, if this
legislation is approved, it will be easier to combat child abuse. Among other
things, it gives a role to nongovernmental organizations in directly
filing complaints of abuse with judicial authorities.
Does this
legislation address the issue of sexual education for children? “Not
explicitly,” Nadi told Al-Monitor. “But it does talk about educating
children, as well as family members and other adults who are in contact with
children, about children’s rights. Therefore, a related organization such as
the Ministry of Education will be required to approve a set of internal
guidelines and regulations regarding children’s rights, and sexual education
will be a part of that.”