On Wednesday, March 3, 2021, the Iranian judiciary ordered the dissolution of the Imam Ali Charity Association following a complaint lodged by the Ministry of Interior.

The Imam Ali Charity Association is one of the most famous charities in Iran. Its main focus is on children's rights, including education, ending child labor, combating child abuse, services for orphans, and care for children who suffer from drug addiction, or who are in households affected by addiction.

The verdict to dissolve the charity comes at a time when two official investigations have revealed the government's inability to deal with the problem of child labor. So the news that working children will no longer benefit from the services provided by the charity is a blow for children, families and rights advocates across Iran.

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The ban on the charity, which is also known as the Imam Ali's Popular Students Relief Society, prompted outrage and dismay in the media, and on social media.

Although the ban followed a complaint from the Rouhani administration’s Ministry of Interior, there is speculation that the regime disbanded the association in order to strengthen other charities that work more in line with its goals and aspirations. Others cited rumors that there were security concerns linked to the organization — or that’s how the regime had framed it.

In recent years, a group of conservatives active in both traditional and social media launched a campaign against the association, seeking to portray it as the sole executor of Western policies on educating children.

The pressures, allegations and fabricated cases put forward by these groups became so intense that it led to the arrest of several of the organization’s leaders. So in many ways the closure of the charity a few months later has not really come as a surprise.   

The Most Vulnerable in Society

The Imam Ali Association focused on the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in Iranian society, and worked to protect and champion their rights on a daily basis.

Orphan children make up a large number of Iran’s child labor force. Other working children have families but suffer constant abuse. All of them live in poverty. These children go out on the streets to make money however they can: picking through and collecting rubbish or working as street vendors. They are regularly exposed to all kinds of mental, psychological and physical injuries, and the situation is deteriorating day by day.

Since 2006, when the government tasked itself with improving the lives of street children, government agencies have implemented vital, often well-funded programs and measures to reduce or control this social harm. The intitiative, dubbed the Reorganization Plan of Street Children, was supposed to empower children and their families. They carried out work very similar to that done by the Imam Ali Association.

Despite this, an article published in early 2021 by the quarterly publication Social Research in Iran, published by Tehran University, suggests these efforts have been largely unsuccessful.

The journal's report indicates that the plan to tackle the problem of working children did have some impact: it affected these children's employment status and working hours, as well as the issue of guardianship. It helped meet basic needs so did improve the quality of their lives to some extent. But it fell well below expectation when it came to education and secondary needs. 

The researchers talked to a group of working children and their families, who said that empowerment services were limited and that only financial support would have an impact on the education of children, and on their employment.

The report's authors say the Welfare Organization, which could be the most straightforward provider of empowerment through financial aid, was used most often by these families, but that the organization was not in a position to offer job opportunities or rehabilitation services to families.

The study also shows that in total, only 20 percent of the families of street children are partially empowered through access to services; the remaining 80 percent either did not have access to services or the services did not affect their lives.

"Family empowerment services are at a minimal level and indicate that the families have been abandoned and the centers have not followed up on their cases," the study said.

In 2015, the results of a study by Allameh Tabatabai University showed that interventionist organizations that work to help children have been not been perceived as helpful. Instead, it said, they have been viewed as a threat by children and their families.  

This study showed that one of the reasons for the viewpoint is the fact that the priorities of these policies are different from children's priorities. "Because for children, being with their family and earning money is the main goal, while many of these interventions lead to  children being deprived from both sides."

The study also found that "failure to justify or explain the objectives of the services to the clients (children and their families) led to very limited, incomplete, and sometimes erroneous information about these services."

Many children's rights activists have been critical of the government institutions' efforts to prevent, reduce or control social harm affecting children and call for greater involvement from civil society organizations.

Ignoring these criticisms and stubbornly suspicious of these kinds of popular institutions , government officials have preferred to stop  the activities of groups like the Imam Ali Association. Rather than finding out how the organization’s  work could be helped and improved, the government has taken it upon itself to solve these problems, despite clear evidence that they have repeatedly failed to do so.

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