West Balochistan: Iran's Invisible Children
For decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has engaged in repressive and discriminatory policies towards ethnic and religious minorities, creating a de-facto division between first and second-class citizens. One of the most serious legal measures causing such inequalities is a law that prevents children of mixed marriages from obtaining nationality. As a result, more than a million inhabitants of Iran do not enjoy fundamental rights such as those to education, health care, social security or decent work.
The article below was published by Global Voices:
There are more than one million people undocumented people in Iran, and a significant number of them are children. One of the main reasons for this inhumane state of affairs is a decades-old law which deprived Iranian women in mixed marriages of the right to pass on their nationality on to their children. A doomed future has already been sealed for thousands of Iranian children even before their birth. These children have no access to education, health care and their names are not even included in the national database.
Many in the country celebrated in May 2019 when Iran’s Majlis (parliament) amended the discriminatory law. The Council of Guardians, the body that reviews all legislation passed by MPs, approved the amendment but added that “security issues” could be used as a basis for withholding the granting of nationality.
But changing the law will not erase all of the discrimination “nameless” children face. Iran's two million-strong Baloch minority, for instance, who live in the undeveloped area near the border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been the victims of tremendous discrimination at the hands of the Iranian authorities, whose policies bar many Baloch people from full citizenship.
Nasser Boladai, spokesperson for Balochistan People's Party and president of the Unrepresented Nations and People Organisation (UNPO), told Global Voices that: “While there are some Baloch children with foreign fathers who have been denied citizenship, for the majority of Baloch children both mother and father are Baloch—that is to say Iranian—whose parents have lived in Balochistan province or other part of Balochistan which are now part of the populated of provinces of Kerman and Hormozgan.”
Government estimates put children both of whose parents are Baloch and who lack national identity cards at about 40,000, while other estimates from local sources put the number at twice that—about 80,000 to 100,000.
Testimonies from Baloch people reveal the depth of their suffering: from mothers whose biggest dream is to send their kids to school, to women who question why the authorities have confiscated their Iranian identity cards, leaving them powerless.
One reason some Baloch children do not have Iranian identity cards is that their parents live in remote areas and, being illiterate, never had their own cards and never apply for their children.
Others become trapped in Iran's Kafkaesque bureaucracy. In some cases they are asked to take DNA tests, which many cannot afford. In other cases, existing national identity cards are confiscated, allegedly to verify their authenticity. Some political and civil society activists consider such acts as part of an ongoing discriminatory policy against certain ethnic groups, notably Sunnis and Balochs.
Boladai said that in some cases the Iranian authorities have confiscated or annulled the birth certificates of Balochs when they go to have their documents renewed or apply for identity cards. Some Balochs believe these measures are designed to punish members of the community who have failed to embrace the regime's propaganda. Boladai also believes they are used as “a pretext of development to change the demography of the region, to make the Baloch a minority in their homeland.” According to Boladai, to achieve this aim the government is planning to move 2 to 5 million people to the coastal region of Balochistan, to the provinces of Sistane-Balochistan and Hormozgan.
“Not having an identity card means it's difficult having a recognized individual and collective identity in society,” Azadeh Pourzand, human rights researcher and executive director of the Siamak Pourzand Foundation, told Global Voices. “Therefore, one should keep in mind the many emotional and psychological challenges that Balouch children who are deprived of having an identity card face.” Without identification documents people are barred from accessing government services such as healthcare and education. “One of the main—but not the only—reason behind thousands of Baloch children deprived from school education,” Pourzand said, “is their not having an identity card—a reality that even officials have raised in the country’s state-sponsored press and media. Yet, very little is done to put an end to the dire situation of Balouch children.”
Even when the children do manage to go to school, Pourzand said, they do so in poorly constructed, badly maintained buildings that put them at risk of “having the school ceilings and walls fall on their heads at any moment. Similarly, access to clean water, energy to ensure a healthy temperature at school and home and sanitary considerations all plague this impoverished area of the country.”
“Given the Islamic Republic’s history of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities,” Pourzand said, “as well as targeted persecutions of these groups, this lack of infrastructure, economic negligence and the depth of poverty appears intentional, and therefore a form of discrimination in and of itself that also leads to other forms of discrimination.”
According to Nasser Boladai, ideally Baloch people should be able to stay in their villages and engage in their traditional practices of agriculture or farming livestock, but because of the lack of facilities and the difficulty of farming the land, many have been forced to leave their villages. As Baloch people have moved to the outskirts of cities like Chahbhar, Zahidan and even Tehran to work as daily wagers, their situation has come to public attention. “Many times they are harassed or beaten and forced to leave their homes and find another place to live,” Boladai said. “There are indications that the number of Baloch stateless people is growing, instead of decreasing.”
Iranian authorities’ repressive policy regarding ethnic and religious minorities has been embedded in the DNA of the Islamic Republic from its inception. In this decades-long game, thousands of Baloch people have been transformed not into second-class citizens, but practically into invisible beings.
Photo courtesy of Global Voices