At least 58 children, some reportedly as young as eight, have been killed in Iran since anti-regime protests broke out in the country two months ago.
According to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), 46 boys and 12 girls under 18 have been killed since the protests began on September 16, sparked by the death of the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody.
In the past week alone, five children were reportedly killed by security forces as violence continued across the country.
Those who died last week include the nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak, who was one of seven people – including a 13-year-old child – killed in the western city of Izeh on Wednesday.
Speaking at Kian’s funeral on Friday, his family said security services had opened fire on the family car, where Kian was sitting next to his father. Iranian security services have denied responsibility for his death, blaming the shooting on “terrorists”.
Iran’s mounting child death toll comes amid escalating violence in cities across the country, with protests showing no sign of abating.
Families in Iran spoke exclusively to the Observer about the death of their children, who they say were killed by government forces.
Hassan Daroftadeh said his son Kumar had always told his family he would grow up to be a “great man”. Instead, they said, Kumar has become a martyr after dying on the streets of his home town of Piranshahr in west Iran on 30 October. His father said he died after being shot multiple times with metal pellets at close range.
“Kumar was just standing on the street. He didn’t even say a word. I don’t know with what conscience they martyred him. Piranshahr is a small town. There were no protests that night, yet they martyred my son. He was just a little boy,” said Daroftadeh. A video of Daroftadeh weeping by his son’s grave went viral on social media.
“I’m shattered. Kumar was his mother’s lifeline,” he said. “The Iranian regime denies killing him. They later said ‘foreigners’ have killed him. I don’t know how the officer who killed my son hugs his own children. I don’t know how he sleeps at night.
The same afternoon, a month before Kumar’s death – which human rights groups have since called “Bloody Friday” after 93 people were killed across Iran – Mohammad Eghbal, 17, was on his way to Friday prayers when he was shot in the back by a sniper in Zahedan, the capital of the Sistan and Baluchistan province. According to Amnesty International, 10 children were killed in Zahedan that day.
Mohammad Eghbal had worked as a construction worker from the age of nine to support his large family and had dreamed of saving up enough money to buy a smartphone so he could open an Instagram account.
His last words were to a stranger, according to one of his relatives. “He asked a bystander, ‘Please take my cellphone from my pocket and call my dad. Tell him I’ve been shot.’” The relative added that when they arrived at the hospital to look for him, the family found a “war zone”.
“Dead bodies were lying across the floor with the screams and cries of mothers filling the air,” the relative said.
The family member said that after his death, the teenager was labeled a terrorist in pro-regime media outlets. “They said Mohammad was a separatist. He was only a child, he had no idea about what being a separatist means. His father is even feeling worse than his mother. Mohammad used to sleep beside his dad at night.
According to the human rights group Hengaw, 12 children have died in the Kurdistan province since the beginning of the protests – and three died in the custody of Iranian special forces. An additional 200 Kurdish teenagers have been arrested and 300 injured after being fired on by government forces.
A week after Mohammad Eghbal died, the 17-year-old Abolfazl Adinehzadeh went into the streets of his home town of Mashhad and never came home.
“We buried Abolfazl with more than 50 shotgun pellets still inside his body,” said a family member. “The medical team could only remove 27. We fear for his mother and sisters who are broken and will never be able to come to terms with his death.”
His family said the teenager had been motivated to take to the streets out of love for his three sisters. “Abolfazl was a well-mannered kid and, having been raised with three sisters, he was well aware of the challenges Iranian women face. He was truly a feminist who wanted equal rights for men and women,” one of his relatives told the Observer.
“As soon as his sisters heard of the news [that he had been shot], they ran towards the street screaming his name. The entire family is inconsolable. He was adored by us all.”
Young people have been at the forefront of anti-regime protests, which started after Mahsa Amini died in the custody of Iran’s morality police. She had been arrested for not wearing her hijab correctly.
The deaths of two teenage girls, Nika Shakamari and Sarina Esmailzadeh, both allegedly beaten to death by security forces for protesting, provoked further outrage.
Videos of schoolgirls across the country protesting against their killing by removing their hijabs and taking down pictures of Iran’s supreme leaders went viral on social media, leading to raids on schools where children were beaten and detained. According to Iran’s teachers union, another 16-year-old girl, Asra Panahi, died after she was attacked by security forces in her classroom in the north-western town of Ardabil on 18 October.
The attacks on children in schools is continuing, according to Hengaw, who said a 16-year-old girl from Kurdistan is on life support after throwing herself from a school van, having been arrested at her school last week.
HRA says more than 380 protesters have been killed since the protests began and more than 16,000 people have been detained, including children. The figure is disputed by the authorities.