Chain of teenage suicides shakes impoverished Iranian town

Authorities in the southwestern Khuzestan province have imposed a media blackout after the chain of poverty-prompted suicides involving six schoolchildren.

al-monitor An undated image of the Taraz pass in Iran's southwestern Khuzestan province.  Photo by Wikicommons.

Topics covered

smartphones, online education, coronavirus, poverty, khuzestan, children, suicide

Nov 17, 2020

At least six children have died over the past months in what has been described as a “nightmarish” chain of suicides in the southwestern town of Ramhormoz in Iran’s oil-rich but impoverished Khuzestan province.

According to local outlets, the suicidal schoolchildren grew up in poverty-stricken families. The motive behind the suicides has been attributed to overall financial strains under which parents could not afford to purchase the kids smartphones, which they would need to join their school programs. The curriculum in Iran has largely become virtual amid the coronavirus pandemic that is raging at record-high levels across the country. The virus had killed over 42,000 Iranians as of Nov. 17.

Statistics released by the director of the Department of Education in Ramhormoz indicated that 4,000 of the town’s 27,000 schoolchildren are lagging behind in their studies due to a lack of access to online learning devices.

Back in October, three similar suicides were reported in the underdeveloped southern province of Bushehr. The case of 11-year-old Mohammad Mousavizadeh particularly grabbed the headlines after his mother told the media that no access to a smartphone for virtual classes threw her son into the tragic ending before he hung himself from the kitchen ceiling.  

In a statement, Ramhormoz Gov. Arash Ghanbari rejected reports about the motive behind the new suicides, adding that an investigation by a team of experts from several government institutions is now underway. However, according to the leading provincial outlet Khoorna News Agency, no such probe had been launched.

Further complicating the case was a copy of what appeared to be a formal directive from the governor to local media outlets, ordering them to refrain from covering the six suicides. “This is an attempt to erase the question rather than address it,” wrote exiled Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi in criticism of the blackout.

While many ambiguities were hanging over the chain suicides, deep-seated debates were renewed among Iranians on the overall suffering of locals in Khuzestan province, where a perceived state neglect has left the richest Iranian province one of the poorest. And with the economic challenges brought by the coronavirus to the Middle East’s worst-hit country, Iran’s lower classes seemed to be bearing the biggest brunt.

As many families in the already underdeveloped areas can hardly make ends meet in the worst economic times of the country’s recent history, online learning has only added to the basket of a long list of unaffordable essentials. The cash-strapped government’s inability to cover all students nationwide with the necessities of online curriculum has sparked criticism about growing social inequality, characterized by an unfair distribution of educational opportunities.

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