August 24, 2015
When the term “fled from home” is attached to a girl’s name, the mind of an Iranian invariably perceives prostitution and all kinds of sexual immorality and misbehavior on her behalf. State judiciary organizations in Iran regularly use this label against women who flee from home violence and the term has found its way into the country’s media. In the eyes of the public whenever a girl is said to have fled her parents’ home, she is invariably associated to be a prostitute, a harlot or loose. This characterization and association immediately turns a person into a criminal, in the eyes of the public. While law books and the legal code in Iran do not associate a girl who has left her parents’ home with criminality or view her as a criminal, in popular culture, and even beyond, such girls are associated with prostitution and with being loose. This association in the public eye has become so common and deep that it is almost impossible to think otherwise and break the association. The fate of a girl who has left her parents’ home therefore has been sealed in the public mind.
But the term “fled from home” that is applied or associated with these women has no legal foundation or criminal nature. In fact, some government officials are now trying to separate the two terms and clear up the miss-association. They speak of the depression that these women suffer and of their innocence, views that are at odds with the public’s presumptions.
This is instructive for us and the media, and tells us not to succumb to presumptions based on fake constructed words and terms.
Iran’s ISNA student news agency recently reported that Majid Arjomandi, the head of the Social Emergencies division of the state Welfare Organization, has quoted a national study on what causes young women to leave their parents’ home. According to him, “The largest group of girls who have fled their homes have done this to avoid getting entangled with drugs, addiction and sexual abuse. In the past, statistics indicated that girls left their parents’ homes because of physical violence committed at their parents’ home.” He continued, “Unfortunately, Iranian young women cannot advance like men and one of the current problems is that when a girl reaches the age of puberty, she is subjected to very strict and restrictive practices in the family.” This is added pressure on the girls.
“The ignorance or insufficient knowledge among parents has resulted in that they push to marry off their girls before they reach the age of 15. Last year, 360 girls with less than 14 years of age got married, among which 10 were less than 14 years and another 10 were less than ten years of age,” he said, and then warned that unless parents and family members are given proper education on the subject, 50 percent of Iran’s young population will be lost and cannot be educated for the future.
In the past a group of government agents had concluded that these young women had fled their warm and comfortable homes for adventurism and so they bought them from the special state safe homes that had been created for them. The group included judges.
So the government report that Arjomandi had referenced is a positive development regarding the issue of young women fleeing from the conditions in their homes. In a regime where every social problem is propagated to be the work of “the enemy,” the government report is a landmark.
The domestic media in Iran should use the report to launch a dialog and conversation over the issue, its causes and constructive responses and stop loosing half the population of the country, even as we know that a segment of that is already lost. Instead of addressing this issue, officials and authorities chose to blame the issues that the youth faced on what it calls Western cultural invasion and used public funds to violently suppress the youth and preach Islamic ethics. Public funds were spent so that young women who fled the violence of their homes would take refuge in the special government safe houses where they were exposed to all forms of sexual trespass.
There are reports that some groups have been formed by civil activists to confront this issue, but this is meagre when compared to the magnitude of the problem. If the state takes this report and civil groups that work in this field seriously and allows them to expand and extend their work, the safety network for such women can be strengthened so that women who flee their homes because of all forms of violence can comfortably take refuge in them. The other leg of such activism is to educate families that have girls who are approaching puberty.
Has the state properly addressed the issue facing half the population, its benefits would have been more than the nuclear energy industry. But it is still not too late, and the money that is expected to be returned to the treasury after the sanctions are lifted can be partly used to address this social ill.