'Eat your flowers or get deported': Abuse of Iran's street vendor kids sparks outrage
Issued on: Modified:
A video showing two young boys being mistreated by a municipal worker has caused an uproar in Iran. The image is shocking: the man filming asks the boys to eat the flowers that they were selling in the street – or face deportation.
The 40-second video first appeared on social media in Iran on January 12. It has been spread on the popular messaging app Telegram as well as on Facebook and Twitter. The video shows the younger boy crying as the man behind the camera shouts: “Eat it all, hurry up, all of it! The stem too. Eat it, otherwise I will send you to the camp." The other boy asks, “Can I not eat the plastic wrap?” The man answers, “No, you have to eat it all”.
Iranian news outlets have reported that this video was filmed in the southeastern city of Kerman, and that the man behind the camera is a municipal agent tasked with regulating street vendors. The two boys are reportedly of Afghan nationality, which explains why the man threatens to send the kids to “the camp”. Undocumented immigrants are sent to camps before they are deported from Iran to their country of origin.
During an interview with state TV, the mayor of Kerman confirmed the incident. He said that the municipal agent had been fired and that he would be brought to justice.
In the past few years, there have been many cases of violence by municipal agents against kids who work as street vendors – including ones caught on video, like the two videos below.
A young street vendor was mistreated by municipal agents in Tehran in December 2017.
A young street vendor was mistreated by municipal agents in Qom in December 2016.
In most cases, however the agents have not been brought to justice, says our Observer Hediah (pseudonym). She’s a children’s rights activist in Iran who prefers to stay anonymous for security reasons.
“What we need urgently are stronger laws to prevent this abuse and training for anyone who deals with these kids”
“This kind of violence is nothing new – it’s in fact a common experience for street vendor kids [who sell all sorts of wares]. But in recent years, with more incidents being caught on video, it’s gained more media attention.
In this case, the two boys are from Afghanistan, but street vendor kids are not all Afghan – there are also Pakistani kids and many Iranian kids as well.
Unfortunately, municipal agents lack knowledge or any sort of training about how to deal with these kids. Like many people, they have this absurd image of street vendor kids that stems from prejudice: that they make lots of money from their business that they then give to a boss, or that their business is just a front for drug smuggling. This isn’t true. The reality is that most of these kids are from very poor families who are working the streets in order to scrape together a living.
"The positive reaction of the mayor gives children rights activists hope for the future"
When these negative images are mixed with power, like in the case of municipal agents, it can translate to violence. It’s not systematic violence, but it’s frequent, since these agents don’t fear any serious consequences. And it must be noted that it’s not just municipal agents; the kids are victims of violence from ordinary citizens, too.
What we need urgently are stronger laws to prevent this abuse and training for anyone who deals with these kids so that they treat them better. The recent case in Kerman is encouraging – the positive reaction of the mayor gives us children rights activists hope for the future. If this case is successfully prosecuted, it will set an example.”
According to a 2017 survey conducted in six of Iran’s provinces by Tehran’s University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, 90 percent of kids who are street vendors are boys, and half of them left school to help their families undergoing financial difficulties. Those surveyed ranked outdoor weather conditions as their biggest problem, followed by hunger, then by violence on the part of citizens and municipal agents.