December 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
Children, some as young as nine years old, clothed in war suits with distinctive red arm bands and brandishing plastic keys are a familiar sight in many Iranian cities. The red arm bands signify a willingness to die a martyr's death. The plastic key is to open the gates of paradise. Attracted from the more poverty stricken areas of Iran, these children are indoctrinated to a high pitch of religious madness, given a few weeks' military training and then moved up to the front line. Once they are in the thick of it, the children are used in suicide attacks, sent blindly and unarmed into the minefields to act as human mine-flails. They are sent on mindless mass attacks towards the Iraqi defence, to draw fire sp that the regular Iranian soldiers can pinpoint Iraqi firing positions. It has been estimated that well over 50,000 Iranian children have been slaughtered in this war since this war began. At a United Nations meeting an Iranian statement in their defence seemed based on the fact that the children are "volunteers" and that the Iranian leadership could not and would not deny children the right to be martyrs.
Child labour is supposed to have gone out with the last century. The sad reality is that the labour of millions of children throughout the world is still abused. This is the modern world of nine-year-old coal miners and eight-year-old prostitutes, of little girls who work twelve-hour shifts in factories and of small children abandoned to live by their wits on city streets. Employers all over the world see children as a source of cheap, obedient and profitable labour power.
Over 40,000 children under five die each day of hunger and disease. UNICEF estimate that between fifteen and seventeen million children under five die every year. This is before war, drought and other factors have taken their toll. In South Africa 90 per cent of people in the rural areas of Ciskei get their water from open sources shared with livestock. In one village in the Venda Bantustan, ten out of thirty babies born died because of contaminated water and 62 per cent of schoolchildren from the Ciskei Bantustan do not meet the World Health Organisation's nutritional standards, although "the money required to provide adequate food, water, health and housing for everyone in the world has been estimated at $17 billion a year . . . . About as much as the world spends on arms every two weeks" (Campaign Against the Arms Trade).
The future of children all over the world depends on us, the entire working class. Either they continue to suffer or we take steps to ensure a safer and more humane way of life for all of us.