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Politics

Iranian Teenager Recruited To Help Crush Protest “Shot By Mistake”

November 9, 2022
Samaneh Ghadarkhan
5 min read
Iranian security forces regularly recruit children to repress protests.
Iranian security forces regularly recruit children to repress protests.
Pellets are clearly visible on this image from a CT scan of the body of 17-year-ol Abbas Rajabi Hossein-Abad.
Pellets are clearly visible on this image from a CT scan of the body of 17-year-ol Abbas Rajabi Hossein-Abad.

Iranian teenager Abbas Rajabi Hossein-Abad was hospitalized in Sanandaj, Kurdistan province’s capital, after being hit by several pellets during an anti-government earlier this week, IranWire reports.

According to evidence shared by a local source, the 17-year-old was mistakenly shot by security forces after being recruited to participate in the violent crackdown against the protesters.

In recent weeks, images have emerged apparently showing under-18s, wearing uniforms or plainclothes, alongside security force units deployed to crush a wave a nationwide protests sparked more than eight weeks ago by the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of morality police. The unrest triggered a heavy-handed crackdown by the clerical regime, resulting in the deaths of more than 300 people and thousands of arrests.

It’s not the first time Iran has turned to child soldiers in conflict situations. In the 44 years since the Islamic Republic was established, thousands of them have been recruited and many have died, particularly during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s when children were deployed to the frontlines.

Beaten by protesters, then shot by IRGC guards

In the late afternoon of November 7, plainclothes security agents in Sanandaj attacked protesters who had gathered in the western city to voice anger at the regime, inflicting injuries to a number of them, an informed source tells IranWire.

Plainclothes members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were also beaten by the protesting crowd and were taken to Kosar Medical Center for treatment.

Abbas, a member of IRGC’s Kurdistan Quds Division 22, was among those hospitalized. He was taken to a ward specialized in treating acute stroke victims because the medical facility was overwhelmed by new arrivals. The Kurdistan Quds Division 22 is part of the IRGC’s ground forces. Its command center is located in Sanandaj and its current commander is General Jamshid Rezaei.

The teenager, who was wearing civilian clothes, was among protesters when he was shot by the Guards and sustained serious injuries, the source says, adding that he had previously been beaten by angry demonstrators.

Information about his hospitalization and treatment, including a CT scan of his body, was shared with IranWire. His hospitalization form identifies his employer as the “Guards.”

Abbas is a native of the village of Hossein Abad in the north-central province of Semnan and his father, Negahdar Rajabi Hossein-Abad, is an IRGC member.

According to the source, the IRGC and other security forces in Kurdistan are using family members to crack down on protests because they are facing a shortage of manpower.

Using children soldiers violates Iranian, international laws

During the ongoing protests, many images have been shared on social media showing minors wearing uniforms of the paramilitary Basij militia, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

“Under Iranian legislation, both soldiers who are recruited into service and employees of the institutions that recruit them must be over 18, but the Basij issue is another story,” Iranian lawyer Musa Bazin Khalifehlou says.

“Most adolescents who are recruited to suppress people in the streets are members of the Student Basij and the bylaws of their organization say that they can fight against people in the streets.”

These children are given “batons and weapons in violation of Iranian legislation and Iran’s obligations under international laws,” Khalifehlou says, citing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to Iranian legislation, police is the only force allowed to intervene in demonstration, the lawyer points out, adding: “The Student Basij is not authorized to join the riot police in confronting protesters, but this has been done extensively and children are its victims.”

“The Students Basij is a paramilitary organization that wants to exploit children and this is illegal.”

Child soldiers suffer “long-term shock”

Imposing a violent and anxiety-ridden environment to a child is a denial of many of his rights such as the right to education and to peaceful environment. But it also harms their growth and can cause irreparable damage.

Hamed Farmand, founder of U.S.-based Children of Imprisoned Parents International (COIPI), says the Islamic Republic “exploits children in conflicts whereas the government is directly responsible for protecting” them.

“No study is available about the harm inflicted on child soldiers after the fighting but observations and a few narratives from child soldiers that I have gathered show that these children suffer from a long-term shock,” Farmand says.

“They suffer from post-traumatic syndrome and nightmares when they grow up and the disorders created in their behavior and their character are either practically impossible to treat or their treatment is costly and requires a great amount of time and energy.”

Iranian children’s “unanswered” needs

 According to Farman, economic factors play a very important role in the recruitment of child soldiers, along with culture and beliefs.

“Based on the few available studies about the Islamic Republic’s exploitation of children during [the Iran-Iraq war] and on observations and stories about children in other countries that use children in armed conflicts, we can say that patriarchy is one of the main reasons behind the existence of child soldiers.”

Farman points out that children’s participation in violent crackdowns “is not only the result of ideological or military indoctrination.”

Many of them are attracted by the security forces because their “needs and wishes go unanswered by the society in which they live.”

“Iran is not an environment that can satisfy the needs and the desires of children and adolescents, including socializing with people in their own age groups, entertainment, travelling in groups and other group activities that would allow them to express themselves in healthy and acceptable ways that lets them to grow in the right way.”

“Adolescents in Iran face numerous restrictions and prohibitions, and institutions that want to attract children to be used in armed conflicts use this situation by exploiting their unanswered needs,” he says, adding: “The end result is that we see children who are dressed in military outfits and are given weapons to participate in suppressing the people by using violence against them.”

What can be done?

Since children who are used to suppress protests are not officially members of the army, IRGC or police, Khalifehlou says, their recruitment can be reported to international institutions.

“The United Nations Human Rights Council and the UN special rapporteur on human rights are among the authorities to which we can report violations by the Islamic Republic. This way, the reports is brought to the UN and it can even end up with sanctions imposed on Iran by the Security Council.”

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