Behind Bars on Universal Children’s Day

Iran’s Child Rights Defenders

Behind Bars on Universal Children’s Day

Sign the Petition to Free Iran’s Child Rights Defenders

“ The one thing all children have in common is their rights. ” — United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
“There will always be people who choose to work for the promotion and protection of human rights. Human rights defenders show exceptional courage in the face of threats, arrest, attacks and the risk of assassination.” — Front Line Defenders Executive Director Mary Lawlor

On 20 November 2015, most children will spend Universal Children’s Day living their normal Friday lives. For many, this means breakfast, school, homework, play time, dinner, and back to bed. For too many other children, though, an average day includes work, hunger, or the risks of living in a conflict zone.

In the United States, children, often migrants, can legally be hired to work on tobacco farms at age twelve, causing severe health complications and denial of education. In the Philippines, child labourers from poor villages risk death diving for gold in small-scale mines. In the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, militants use schools as recruitment outposts for child soldiers. In Iran, juvenile offenders are subject to the death penalty, sentenced to execution after flawed trials without adequate representation.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Adopted on 20 November 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most rapidly and widely ratified treaty in history, and has led to tangible improvements in children’s rights across the world.

  • It was the first international convention to be ratified by post-apartheid South Africa, which paved the way for a separate juvenile justice system and helped end corporal punishment.
  • The Russian Federation set up juvenile and family courts in response to the CRC, and Eritrea issued a new Transitional Penal Code to punish people who neglect, abuse or abandon their children.
  • Morocco and Ireland each established national mechanisms to monitor children’s rights, and Burkina Faso created a Children’s Parliament in response to the CRC’s principle of participation.

Today, despite unprecedented ratification rates and some meaningful commitments to protect the youngest among us, violations against children continue in every country in the world.

The Fight for Children’s Rights

Even in countries where a majority of children attend safe, well-funded schools, the recognition of this universal right to an education was not won without a fight against societally accepted child labour. In countries with effective and transparent juvenile justice mechanisms, the right of minors to specialised courts was won by people who demanded an end to harsh adult sentences handed down to juvenile offenders.

Every improvement in children’s rights protection can be linked to an advocate who fought for that victory.

In the face of persistent physical, psychological, socio-emotional abuse of children at state and local levels, people who dedicate and risk their lives to defend children’s rights ought to be supported and protected. Too often, however, child rights defenders themselves are persecuted.

In Iran, child rights defenders are harassed and imprisoned.
Share this graphic to demand the release of child rights defender Atena Daemi in Iran.

On 20 November 2015, Front Line Defenders, the Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran (CFPPI), and the below human rights organisations — many of whom specialize in the protection of children’s rights — are calling for the release of two imprisoned child rights defenders in Iran.

Atena Daemi and Saeed Shirzad have been sentenced to 14 years and 5 years, respectively, in prison, in relation to their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of children’s rights.

In Iran, judicial harassment is one of the most common tactics used to silence human rights defenders. Vaguely-worded charges of “acting against national security”, “propaganda against the regime” or “enmity against God” are among the regime’s favourite accusations. Lawyers are kept out of courtrooms, and judges allow “confessions” extracted under duress. Detained HRDs have been ill-treated, subjected to solitary confinement, denied adequate medical treatment and visits by family members.

Many defenders are convicted after lengthy detentions (Saeed’s lasted 15 months) and rapid trials (Atena’s lasted 15 minutes).

The persecution of child rights defenders in particular demonstrates not only the regime’s contempt for civil society, but its refusal to protect the rights of Iranian children.

On Universal Children’s Rights Day, help protect the rights of children. Demand freedom for their defenders.

Learn more about Atena and Saeed below, read a letter penned by Saeed in Gohardasht Prison, share their images, and sign the petition calling for their freedom.

Atena Daemi


Atena Daemi is a 27-year-old children’s rights defender and anti-death penalty activist. Prior to her arrest, Atena set up training classes for street children and organised painting exhibitions to raise awareness about the issue of street children in Iran. She also participated in demonstrations in solidarity with children in Kobani and Gaza.

On 21 October 2014, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested Atena at her house and transferred her to Evin prison, where she was held in solitary confinement. She suffered from a skin disease as a result of her conditions of detention, and declared that she would start a hunger strike should her health conditions further deteriorate. She was eventually moved from solitary confinement to the public ward on 19 January 2015.

In May 2015, Atena was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Share this graphic to demand the release of child rights defender Atena Daemi in Iran.

Atena was convicted in a grossly unfair trial by the Revolutionary Court in Tehran that reportedly lasted no more than 15 minutes. The punishment includes seven years for “gathering and colluding against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. She was also sentenced for “concealing evidence” and for “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Supreme Leader”.

Tweet: Protect children’s rights in #Iran. Demand freedom for their defenders. #FreeAtena

Saeed Shirzad


For nearly 10 years, Saeed has worked with children’s rights NGOs including the Association in Support of Children’s Rights, Children’s Home of Shoosh and Society in Defence of Street Children, and has travelled throughout Iran and internationally to provide humanitarian assistance to children and advocate for their rights.

Share this graphic to demand the release of child rights defender Saeed Shirzad in Iran.

Saeed is known in particular for his work in defence of street children, which includes organisation training, education, and health services for homeless, disadvantaged, and refugee children in collaboration with UNICEF. He has helped recruit lawyers to support refugee and asylum seeking families to obtain legal documentation, and identified and provided direct support to more than 100 families working in sweatshops.

On 2 June 2014, officials from the Ministry of Intelligence arrested Saeed without a warrant. Intelligence officials kept the child rights defender in solitary confinement for two months and denied him access to his family and legal representation. He was charged with “gathering and colluding against national security” and “propaganda against the system”.

The charges against him appear to be connected to his work with the families of political prisoners and cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran.

He was transferred to section 8 of the Evin prison, where non-political detainees are held, and was kept there for more than a year without a trial date being set.

After more than 15 months in detention, Saeed was sentenced in September 2015 to five years in prison. He was transferred to Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, allegedly as punishment for advocating on behalf of other prisoners.

Saeed Shirzad was previously arrested on 21 August 2012 when he and other human rights defenders were in Varzaghan, a town that suffered an earthquake, in the East Azerbaijan province of Iran, providing aid to earthquake victims. He was held in the local Ahar prison for 19 days and then released on bail. In January 2013, Branch 26 of Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced him to a suspended one year in prison, to be executed if he re-offends within 5 years.

Tweet: Protect children’s rights in #Iran. Demand freedom for their defenders. #FreeSaeed


The following organizations and individuals call for the unconditional release of children’s rights defenders Atena Daemi and Saeed Shirzad in Iran: *

Front Line Defenders

Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran (CFPPI)

Child Rights International Network (CRIN)

Jacquelin Hale, Save the Children, EU Office *

Defence for Children International (DCI)

Defence for Children International — Netherlands (DCI-Netherlands)

Child Law Clinic, University College Cork

Seán Love, Executive Director, Fighting Words

Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

Children First Now

Boroujerdi Civil Rights Group

EveryOne Group

*Individual signatories support the campaign for Atena and Saeed in their personal capacity, and do not necessarily represent the views of their respective organizations. Organization titles are provided for identification purposes only.

Support the Campaign


Email to add your organization to the above list.


Sign the petition calling for the release of Atena and Saeed.


Protect children’s rights in #Iran. Demand freedom for their defenders. #FreeSaeed

Protect children’s rights in #Iran. Demand freedom for their defenders. #FreeAtena

CAMPAIGN LAUNCH: Behind Bars on #UniversalChildrensDay: #Iran’s Child Rights Defenders