by Krista Oehlke
On Wednesday, April 13, as part of Harvard FXB Center’s Works-in-Progress series, , G. Barrie Landry Fellow Maneli Aghakan delivered a presentation on the current state of child protection in Iran.
Aghakhan comes to Harvard from the UNICEF Iran office, where she heads the child protection unit. Aghakhan, along with Landry Fellow Ketevan Melikadze, of Georgia, will finish her MPH at the Harvard Chan School with a certificate in child protection this spring.
To a packed room Aghakhan offered a balanced picture of Iran’s achievements in child protection, on the one hand, and ongoing gap in the child rights architecture, on the other. She highlighted Iran’s notable progress in promoting justice for children (J4C) through the strengthening of institutional capacity through training and child friendly legislative reform.
Aghakhan especially noted the importance of a comprehensive and disciplined approach for protecting children who come into contact with the law. “You need to view the judge, the police officer, the lawyer, and the social worker in an integrated manner and not separately,” she said. The Iran CP unit had also recently contributed to the reshaping of a revised penal code, Aghakhan said, and this had “opened a window to more leniency and reduced corporal punishment for juvenile offenders.”
How can change be measured? While conceding the difficulty of measuring how UNICEF’s initiatives have changed children’s lives for the better, Aghakhan noted that since the inception of UNICEF’s J4C activities, there has been a 50 percent reduction over two years (2012-2014) in the number of children deprived of their liberty. Legislative reforms and trainings are what made this noteworthy progress possible, she said.
Aghakhan concluded by noting that the success of child rights-related initiatives in Iran are explicitly linked to the degree and strength of national ownership, political will, and commitment by the Iranian government. She suggested that in the midst of the country’s politically charged environment, where child protection concerns are often the target of governmental criticism, cultivating a joint UN effort was going to continue to be instrumental in building trust for deeper, more sustained collaboration.
Moreover, an integrated approach involving all players – judges, social workers, attorneys – had thus far played a crucial part in advancing justice for children, while national coordination and the deliberate involvement of religious leaders and institutions had started to meaningfully chip away at the problem of violence against Iranian children.