Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Two months after the government of President Hassan Rouhani introduced a bill to Majlis calling for Iran to sign and ratify the UN Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, Hossein Ali Haji Delighani, MP from Shahin Shahr, said the bill would effectively shut down student Basij, and therefore, Majlis would not ratify it.
In an interview with Basij News, Delighani highlighted the fact that student Basij forms the dynamic core of the Basij [volunteer paramilitary force] which is made up of males18 years old and younger. He stated that the bill would prevent the recruitment, training, and formation of the Basij. Furthermore, it would compromise national security and would stand in direct opposition to social and religious values. Delighani even described the proposed bill as unconstitutional, stressing that it contradicted the regime’s overall policy.
The explanatory note accompanying the bill highlights the fact that Iran had ratified and signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1372 , and the three supplementary protocols. Iran had also signed and ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography in 1386 . It states that the current proposal to join the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was actually agreed to in 1389  on the sideline of the UN general assembly by the Iranian foreign minister.
In an interview with ISNA [Iranian Student’s News Agency] on 11 Shahrivar [1 September 2016], Mozaffar Alvandi, the secretary of the National Body on the Convention of the Right of the Child (NBCRC), said: “this protocol must go through the same channels as all other charters or international agreements prior to being ratified and signed. It has nothing to do with this or that government, as characterised by some critics, and that the current government should be applauded for its efforts.”
Alvandi pointed out, “UNCRC was ratified and signed in 1993 – something the country can be proud of.” He said that the Ministry of Justice, which oversees all matters concerning UNCRC, held a number of working and expert meetings to draft the bill. Alvandi added that the bill was discussed enough times at various meetings.
Contrary to claims by MP from Shahin Shahr, Haji Delighani, another MP from the Legal and Judicial Committee of Majles did not object to Iran signing the protocol. The spokesman for the Legal and Judicial Committee of Majlis, Hassan Noruzi, had already kicked the ball over to the Ministry of Defence – so to speak. He commented that the bill had been ratified and had received the approval of the officials from the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security and the Interior Ministry, but the officials from the Ministry of Defence, who had wanted to make some changes, had not attended the meeting. He had added that Ayatollah [Ruhollah] Khomeini, would not have allowed minors and adolescents to take part in the war, but that some youngsters had changed their birth certificates to go to war.
The greatest opposition to Iran signing the protocol comes from the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Basij. The head of the Basij, General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, has said: “ signing the UN Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, would be inadvisable and against religious principles [Islamic canon]. The thought of wanting our children to put down their weapons and sit at home is tantamount to retreat. Basijis never retreat, that is impossible.”
Iranian dailies Kayhan [influential conservative paper] and Javan [affiliated with IRGC], and news agencies Fars [semi-official] and Tasnim [strong link to IRGC] have all opposed this bill. The deputy head of Women’s Social and Cultural Council, Fereshteh Rouhafza said recently that it would be against the decree of the jurisconsult for Iran to sign the protocol. The acting head of the Basij Students Organisation, Qasem Habibzadeh has said that the bill defies common sense and that it was impractical and against religious values.
It is apparent that what is heard from Majlis and the government — with the exception of the Ministry of Defence – is different from the views held by the IRGC and Basij.
It is unclear how many students are actually enrolled in the Student Basij Organisation. There are significant differences between figures given by different sources. In Khordad 1359 [May 1980], the acting head of the Student Basij Organisation put the number of students at five million. However, the same official had put the number at 13 million the year before.
What are the advantages of being a member of the student Basij?
Being a student Basij has many benefits including greater chance of passing university exams, admission to a university, and being hired by government-owned companies. Young males can expect reduced military service obligation and qualify for grants and interest-free loans from banks and financial institutions affiliated with Basij and IRGC. Other benefits include paid leave and pilgrimage, free supplementary courses, language courses, Qoranic studies (reading, reciting, memorising, analysing) and physical education. At the same time, students are indoctrinated into ideological and revolutionary ideas.
Schools are the recruiting grounds for student Basij. A list of male and female students are sent to the offices of provincial Basij every year. The list usually includes all students except those with health or medical issues.
What does the UN Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict call for?
All four sections under Article 38 UNCRC, ratified on 20 November 1989 by the UN General Assembly, clearly address the rights of children regarding armed conflicts: “States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person under the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among persons between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, States Parties shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.”
Wars and armed conflicts have greater impact on children than adults.
Majority of war related traumas including combat stress and various psychological illnesses are symptoms of PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder]. The Pentagon [US Department of Defence] lists them as CSR [ Combat Stress Reaction] which includes anxiety and various facial, physical and behavioural disorders.
Military psychological studies list six identifying signs to help recognise combat disorder: they include physical, cognitive and behavioural indicators as well as anxiety, antisocial behaviour and coping problems. There are a total of 18 indicators; an adult exhibiting 11 or more, is diagnosed with CSR. That being said, there are no obvious signs that would help a military commander or a psychiatrist to identify CSR. More often than not, the symptoms of CSR, which are more severe in children, go undetected.