Iranian families have to pay out of their own pockets for the treatment of their children who have been affected by chemical attacks on girls' schools, IranWire has learned.
Some victims of the attacks are not covered by social security or any health insurance, and their families are required to pay up to several million tomans (hundreds of US dollars) to alleviate the poisoning symptoms of their loved ones.
Since November 2022, hundreds of girls’ schools across Iran have been targeted by poisoning attacks in what Amnesty International described as “a campaign that appears to be highly coordinated and organized.”
As many as 13,000 pupils have reportedly suffered symptoms including nausea, fainting, headaches, coughing, breathing difficulties and heart palpitations, with many requiring treatment in hospital.
The attacks appear to target girls for their involvement in nationwide protests sparked by the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody.
"I have observed during this period that only schools where students were protesting have been attacked,” a teacher in a western Iranian city tells IranWire.
“For example, there is a school near where we live that used to play the national anthem every morning during the protests, and so far, nothing has happened to that school. But there are schools where students have protested, and they have been attacked several times," the teacher adds.
The teacher says he was himself a victim of a poisoning attack that targeted a school in early April.
"I noticed an unfamiliar smell, but it didn't occur to me that it could be a chemical attack. It took me about 10 minutes to leave the school premises…When I got home, I had a severe sore throat. By nightfall, I had lost my hearing and remained in that condition for three days."
"I had to visit an ear, nose and throat specialist, and, despite having insurance, my treatment cost me approximately 400,000 tomans ($8),” the teacher continued.
To his knowledge, the families of affected students have to bear the cost of medical treatment.
“For many students who do not have insurance or whose financial situation doesn’t allow them to pay for their treatment, self-medication at home is their only option, which can be dangerous," he says, adding, "No one has even considered asking the government, the school or the education department to cover the treatment expenses."
The mother of a highschool girl in the north-western city of Divandareh tells IranWire that her school was attacked twice, before and after the Persian New Year in March.
The girl had to be hospitalized for three days for respiratory symptoms, and her parents had to pay about 5 million tomans ($92) for the treatment.
Saeed Peyvandi, a sociologist and professor at the University of Lorraine, France, tells Iranwire that the Iranian government and schools are directly responsible for ensuring security inside the schools.
"If the government or the education system do not want to bear the cost of treating children in hospital, it means they are doubly responsible. They turn their backs on their responsibility to ensure safety in educational environments and force families to pay for treatment," he said.
IranWire's legal adviser Musa Barzin Khalifehlou points out that according to Article 29 of the constitution, the government is obligated to provide insurance, health and medical services to all citizens.
"Unfortunately, there is hardly any effective student insurance in Iran. It’s not a violation of the rules to impose the cost of treating a poisoned student on the students, but it’s not fair either," the human rights lawyer says.
According to Khalifalou, "the government admits that these poisonings are intentional. Considering that it has been happening for several months and it is responsible for protecting the health and the lives of students inside schools, together with the school principal and the education administration, it is clear that there is a lack of action and negligence."
Sociologist Saeed Peyvandi believes that "only a collective reaction and a public movement by parents, teachers and other citizens can finally determine where these incidents are coming from, and why the government is negligent, unresponsive and not actively searching for the perpetrators."