Femena: Right, Peace, Inclusion

Femena: Right, Peace, Inclusion
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Iran Must Ensure Full Access to Education for Iranian and Afghan Immigrant and Refugee Children Left Behind 

Over 16 million and 700 thousand students across Iran officially started school on September 23, 2023, which marked the start of the academic year. Yet, official reports indicate that more than four million Iranian children are still deprived of access to education. There are no accurate statistics on the number of Afghan immigrant children in Iran who were unable to attend school this academic year. 

The latest reports from the Islamic Parliament Research Center indicate that the number of children lacking access to and left out of the education system in the 2022/23 academic year increased by 17.15 percent compared to the school year 2021/22. In the 2022/23 school year, 911,272 students lacked access to education and were left behind while 279,019 students dropped out of school. Based on the same report, of the nearly 4,089,000 children left out of the education system from 2017 to 2020, only 4.3% or 178,238 children have managed to enroll in school.

While providing access to education is a legal obligation for the Iranian government, the absence of school facilities in remote areas, financial and cultural poverty of families, child labor, children’s disabilities, difficulties of those migrating from rural to urban areas,  the increase in the number of children without birth certificates, and the early marriage of girls are the main barriers and factors contributing to the high numbers of children left out of the education system. 

Meanwhile, other factors, such as the overall economic crisis and the increasing poverty, government mismanagement, a shortage of 300,000 teachers, continued expulsion of teachers’ union activists, dismissal of teachers, and suspension of students due to participation in the “Woman, Life, Freedom” uprisings have added to the severity of the crisis. The obstacles for children’s access to education do not stop there, and the lack of at least 50,000 classrooms, frequent school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, air pollution, chemical attacks on girls’ schools in the second half of the last school year, the increase in ideological and sexist education in schools, and the overall quality of education in Iranian schools are other contributing factors in this serious crisis.

Following the Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan and the imposition of a ban on girls’ education, Iran has witnessed an influx of Afghan refugees. Many of the Afghan immigrant and refugee children are however facing serious challenges to continuing their education in Iran. 

A recent statement by children’s rights organizations raised serious concerns about the inability and unwillingness of the education system to register and allow non-Iranian children and children without national ID cards into schools. The statement warned that children left behind from the education system are in danger of being forced into work and contributing to the already serious problem of child labor in Iran. The drafters of the statement stressed the inadequacies and of the system has forced families to stand in long lines in the heat of summer in the hopes of registering their children for classes but “lack of attention to the education of immigrant and refugee children and those without national ID cards, exorbitant enrollment fees, administrative obstacles and a complicated bureaucratic registration process and delays in issuing education permits,” will likely make it difficult for them to attend school. 

According to previous government commitments, the education of Afghan children in Iran was to be free. Yet, with the new regulations set by the Ministry of Education in the current school year, immigrant families are obligated to pay in order to enroll their children in public schools. The amounts being charged for enrollment vary.  Parents must pay 600,000 Tomans to register their children in primary school, 800,000 Tomans for middle school, one million Tomans for high school, and vocational and professional schools require one million and 200 thousand Tomans for enrollment

It is clear that the costs associated with public education of their children, may be too high for many immigrant Afghan families, most of whom are unemployed and/or may have inadequate income. The burden is especially high for those families who have to pay for the education of several children simultaneously. Meanwhile, the Iranian government receives 17 million Euros in foreign aid for the education of immigrants in Iran every year. Mehdi Fayazi, the head of the Center for International Affairs and Schools Abroad at the Ministry of Education, has claimed Iran spends over 325 million dollars annually for the education of Afghan nationals in the country. It should be noted that the total budget of the Ministry of Education this year was 242 thousand billion tomans (about five billion dollars) for 971,000 working personnel, 38,000 retired personnel, and 16,200,000 thousand students.

The new regulation also allows school administrators to make decisions in the registration of the immigrant students. According to Article 6 of this regulation, school principals are required to register foreign nationals and immigrants in provinces and cities authorized by the National Migration Organization, subject to having the necessary physical space within classrooms and standard student density. In the past few days, a letter was published by the parents of some Afghan students, raising concerns that authorities in District 5 of Isfahan have prevented children from attending school despite the parents having paid enrollment fees and registering the students.

In the absence of accurate statistics on the number of immigrant children, however, it is not possible to provide exact numbers  of Afghan children who were unable to access education and enroll in schools or were forced to drop out of school for various reasons.

Based on the announcement from the Deputy Minister of Education and Head of the Center for International Affairs and Schools Abroad in September 2022, there has been a 40% increase in the population of Afghan students, and the population of half a million Afghan students has reached 800,000 this year. Yet according to different statistics announced by the Ministry of Education, in Iran’s 2022/23 academic year, 670,000 foreign national students attended school. Another statistic indicates that in the last academic year, a total of 614,199 male and female foreign national students registered in the SIDA system, and most of these students are of Afghan nationality.

● Femena expresses its grave concern over the growth in numbers of children unable to access education in Iran and urges Iranian authorities to take all steps necessary to ensure that education is accessible for all Iranian and Afghan immigrant children. 

● Femena also urges UNICEF, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the United Nations Development Office in Iran to closely monitor the status of children’s education in Iran, in particular their access to education and work with Iranian authorities to reverse the growing number of children left without access to education.  

● Femena further urges the UN system and the EU to closely monitor the access of immigrant students, especially Afghan migrant and refugee children, to education and to  monitor closely the expenditure of foreign aid in this respect to ensure that it is used appropriately to ensure education access for Afghan refugee and migrant children.