Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2019, 14:27 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Iran

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Iran, 2001, available at: [accessed 23 January 2019]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population
    – total: 66,796,000
    – under-18s: 30,092,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 513,000 (including the Pasdaran)
    – reserves: 350,000
    – paramilitary: 40,000 (plus 200,000 Basij reserves)
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 18 (no age limit for paramilitary)
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 16 (no age limit for paramilitary)
  • Voting age (government elections): 15
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government and opposition forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces as the voluntary recruitment age is sixteen. There is also reportedly extensive child involvement in paramilitary organisations. Child soldiers, some as young as nine, were used extensively during the Iran-Iraq war. Some opposition groups are said to recruit children, including from expatriate communities living in Europe.


The Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979 after the fall of Shah Muhammad Pahlavi. An eight-year war with Iraq began in September 1980, fought initially on Iranian soil and then taken into Iraqi territory. During this period, Kurdish insurgents seeking an autonomous state intensified activities in north-western Iran. The Kurdish revolt has since dissipated but the Iranian Mojahedin, a heavily armed guerrilla group based in Iraq, still launches armed incursions into Iran.


National Recruitment Legislation

  • Regular armed forces

Article 3, section 11 of the Constitution stipulates "All round strengthening of the foundations of national defence to the utmost degree by means of universal military training ..." as a state goal. Article 144 states, "The Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran must be an Islamic Army, i.e. committed to Islamic ideology and the people, and must recruit into its service, individuals who have faith in the objectives of the Islamic Revolution and are devoted to the cause of realising its goals." Article 151 states "the government is obliged to provide a programme of military training, with all requisite facilities for all its citizens, in accordance with the Islamic criteria, in such a way that all citizens will be able to engage in the armed defence of the Islamic Republic of Iran."902

The legal basis of conscription is the 1984 Military Service Act. Originally, according to article 2 of the Act, 19 was the age of conscription; all males who turned 19 by March of each year were eligible for military service in the same year. In the later phases of the Iran-Iraq war the age for conscription was lowered to 18. Currently all men between 18 and 50 are liable for military service, and between 18 and 60 in times of emergency.903

Military service is performed in both the Iranian Armed Forces and the Revolutionary Guards. Military service used to last for 2 years, but was reduced to 18 months after the Iran-Iraq war. Students may postpone military service in order complete their studies. Exemptions are available to those whose brothers or fathers were killed in the Iran-Iraq War. Girls are exempt from military service altogether.904

The minimum age for voluntary recruitment appears to be 16. According to Iran's initial report to the Committee on the Rights of Child, "The minimum employment age for the armed forces for the purpose of receiving military training is 16 and the minimum age of employment for the Police Forces is 17."905

  • Government-allied Paramilitary Groups

After the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini created a standing fighting force, known as the Pasdaran, or Revolutionary Guards, to check the power of counter-revolutionary elements within the Imperial Army.906 The Constitution entrusted the defence of Iran's territorial integrity to the military, while the Pasdaran was responsible for preserving the revolution itself. In November 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini also created the Basij, a voluntary, auxiliary military unit of the Revolutionary Guards. It is a popular, emergency, mobilisation army, consisting mostly of those too young (under 18) or too old (usually age 45 and older) for regular conscription. The Basij are under the authority of the Ministry of the Pasdaran.907

There are no defined age limits for joining paramilitary organizations such as the Basij.908 During the Iran-Iraq War, the Basij included approximately one million volunteers, and it was through this force that many children came to participate in armed combat. Today, it still plays the role of a "moral police force" in Iran, relying heavily on youths to fill its ranks.909 According to a Rädda Barnen report, it is still possible for 16-year-olds to volunteer to serve with the Basij.910

Ansar-e Hezbollah is a movement of vigilantes which seeks to enforce Islamic standards in Iranian society and consists mostly of young people.911 It has no minimum age limit for membership.912 The Basij and the Ansar-e Hezbollah militia fought student protesters in Tehran in July 1999.913

Past Child Recruitment and Deployment

The Iranian government has denied the use of child soldiers under 16 during the war, saying: "Iran categorically rejects suggestions that the use of children in its armed forces is an established practice or one that is encouraged by it. Military conscription in Iran officially starts at 18. The Iranian government proudly extols the virtues of young volunteer martyrs in the battlefield, but all are said to be at least 16, when an Iranian comes of age." However, a report submitted to a session of the UN Human Rights Commission paraphrased comments by an Iranian government representative who in a closed-door sub-commission hearing admitted that children did participate in the war against Iraq: "Their heroism and enthusiasm were based on the notion of martyrdom, which materialists were unable to understand. Every Muslim had a religious duty to defend human honour and dignity against aggression.... The children were helping their parents to fight to liberate their soil, to defend the values in which they believed and to protect the revolution." Two weeks later, the Iranian mission to the UN in Geneva sent a letter to the UN Centre for Human Rights stating that it "categorically rejects the suggestion that the use of children in the (Iranian) armed forces is an established practice or one that is encouraged by the government."914

Government-allied groups were known to recruit children during the Iran-Iraq war. The Hezbollahi organization for example made announcements in various newspapers inviting registration with the sole entry requirement being a "belief in God" and sympathy for the Hezbollahi. Age was "unimportant": according to the advertisement, students could range from 14 to 90 years of age.915 The leadership of Iran also urged youths to take an active part in fighting.916 In a series of rulings issued in the autumn of 1982, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that parental permission was unnecessary for those going to the front, that volunteering for military duty was a religious obligation, and that serving in the armed forces took priority over all other forms of work or study. Various sources reported that children were indoctrinated into participating in combat.917 They were given "keys to paradise" and promised that they would go directly to heaven if they died as martyrs against the Iraqi enemy.918

No estimates are available on the number of children who participated in the Iran-Iraq war, but Hojjatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani, later president, stated in 1982 that Iran's armed forces had been supplemented by 400,000 volunteers. An exiled source claims that since military service was compulsory from the age of 18, most of these "volunteers" were likely to be younger.919 Gulf war statistics about prisoners, casualties and their ages are unreliable, but according to the International Committee of the Red Cross at least 10 per cent of Iranian prisoners were under 18.920 Iranian officers captured by the Iraqis claimed that nine out of ten Iranian child soldiers were killed.

According to one journalist, most recruits had between one and three months of military training before being sent to the front, but some had no training at all.921 Boys as young as nine were reportedly used in human wave attacks and to serve as mine sweepers in the war with Iraq.922 Many child soldiers were captured by the Iraqis and transferred to a special Prisoner of War camp for children.923 Some 300, most believed to be 15 or younger were held by Iraq in a special, separated compound at Al-Ramadi, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, where they were exploited by the Iraqi authorities for propaganda purposes.924

Martyrs' families enjoyed some social prestige and reportedly received monetary compensation per child, plus a martyr's card entitling the family to food and other privileges. Child soldiers were nearly all from poor villages or slum families.925 All families of martyrs and those handicapped by the war received a stipend for their loss from the Bunyad-e Shaheed (Martyrs' Foundation).926


Child Recruitment and Deployment

  • The Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) also known as the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI) – 15,000 fighters927

This group includes the National Liberation Army (NLA) of Iran as an armed wing and the Muslim Iranian Student's Society as a front organisation. It is the largest and most active Iranian opposition group outside the country. The MKO was founded in 1965, advocating an anti-Western platform which combines Marxism and Islam. It is now based in Iraq.928 The MKO has launched an international campaign against the Iranian Government through propaganda, street demonstrations and violence. Women play a prominent role in the organisation.

There are reports that children under 18 have been recruited from Sweden to MKO camps.929 In 2000, following a visit by President Khatami, the German Government closed hostels that were reportedly used by the MKO to raise money and train cadres. There have also been regular but unconfirmed reports of the MKO trafficking children from camps in Iraq to Europe and North America.

  • The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) – 1,200-1,800 fighters930

The KDPI currently operates from bases in Iraq and is reportedly the largest of the Iranian Kurdish opposition groups.931 The KDPI seeks Kurdish autonomy within the Islamic Republic. In the 1990s armed clashes continued between the KDPI and government forces, including attacks against Iranian Kurds, both in western Iran and inside Iraqi territory. It is not known whether the KDPI uses children as soldiers.

  • Komaleh: approx 200 fighters932

In 1979, Komaleh began to wage a guerrilla war against the Islamic Republic with the aim of achieving Kurdish autonomy, but later came in conflict with the KDPI. The group is currently based in Iraq.933 It is not known whether Komaleh uses children as soldiers.

902 Brett and McCallin op. cit.

903 Ibid.

904 UN Convention on the Rights of Child Initial Reports of States parties due in 1996: Iran (Islamic Republic of) 23/07/98. CRC/C/41/add.5.

905 Ibid. Iranian law regarding the age of majority – 15 lunar years for boys and 9 for girls . differs considerably from international standards and was criticised by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC/C/15/Add.123).

906 Helen Chapin Metz, Country Study Federal Research Division: Library of Congress 1987.

907 Copley, Gregory R. Defense and Foreign Affairs Handbook, Alexandria, Virginia, The International Strategic Studies Association, 1999, p.697.

908 Goodwin Gill and Cohn op. cit. p. 196. There is no minimum age limit for Ansar-e Hezbollah according to the US Department of State Report 2000,

909 Ibid.

910 See RB, Childwar database,

911 Horeman and Stolwijk.

912 US Department of State Human Rights Report 2000.

913 AI Report 2000.

914 Cassway, p.71.

915 "Gulf war; The child soldiers of the ayatollahs. Economist, 17/9/83.

916 Teheran Times, "Youth future of the Islamic Republic-Khamenei," 23/2/82, p.1.

917 "Unabated Gross Violations of Children's Rights in Iran", International Children Rights Monitor, Spring 1983, p.16 and "Iran Chronology of Childhood Lost,. International Children Rights Monitor, Autumn 1983, p.5.

918 New York Times Magazine, 12/2/84 p.21.

919 Ibid.

920 "Economist, 17/9/83, op. cit.

921 Hanns Neuerbourg , "Young, Fearless and Denied by Iran", Associated Press, 12/3/84.

922 The Abuse of Human Rights in Iran, London: House of Commons, Parliamentary Human Rights Groups, 1986, p.41.

923 Kate Dorian, "Another Iranian Attack Launched, Iraq Says Child Soldiers Captured", Associated Press, 2/5/82.

924 Neuerbourg, 12/3/84.

925 Economist, 17/9/83 op. cit.

926 Cassway, p.71.

927 IISS op. cit.

928 Longman, p. 149.


930 IISS, op. cit. p.140.

931 Federation of American Scientist,

932 IISS, P.140.

933 Longman, op. cit. p. 151.

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