Whether social harms are more common in city fringes or in their central parts was the subject of a recent debate, with experts calling for more government support to NGOs since they play an effective role in reducing social maladies.
While it can’t be categorically said that social problems are more common in the outlying areas than within the city jurisdiction, the experts however deemed that “slums do give rise to social harms” and anti-social elements due to poverty and other reasons, and proliferation of such communities is not desirable.
Poverty is a factor often blamed for social ills, but not all social malaise stems from poverty. Research shows that there is no direct correlation between poverty and social violence or abuse.
The latest studies in the field show that social problems including anxiety, depression and violence among the youth living in the fringes or outlying areas of larger Iranian cities is one of the top concerns, followed by drug addiction, and call for addressing the issues on priority, the Persian language newspaper ‘Sharq’ reported.
To elicit opinion on social harms, the newspaper invited three experts, namely Hossein Kuchakian, head of Youth Social and Cultural Affairs at the Interior Ministry, Mohsen Talaee Mahani, an official of the Youth Affairs and Sports Ministry, and Saeed Moiedfar, Tehran University professor and sociologist, to debate the issue.
In response to a query whether social malaise is more common in city fringes than their central parts, Kuchakian said, “We can’t say social problems are more common in the outlying areas, although slums are the origins of social ills.”
Slums are heavily populated urban areas characterized by substandard housing, inadequate access to clean water and sanitation, and a constantly changing residential population.
The youth living there may not remain in those areas permanently and usually migrate to the cities to escape the hopelessness and poverty and in search of better livelihoods through ways which may not always be conducive to social norms of behavior and propriety; therefore, the damage can spread across the cities.
Just like in the human body, when a group of cells become cancerous, if left untreated, they spread all over the body. No matter which organ has been infected first, Kuchakian said.
The process of migration has two aspects. “Rural people migrate from villages to cities in order to find better jobs. But as they can’t find a decent job and affordable housing in cities, they are forced to dwell in unofficial settlements. On the other hand, in the recent years urban residents have also been driven out from within the cities to the fringes due to the growing economic problems.
Currently, 60% of slum dwellers in Iran are villagers and the rest are urban residents who have moved to informal settlements.
“As no facilities are provided to these areas, those living there feel they have been unfairly discriminated and this can result in the emergence of groups that lack compassion towards others and break the laws without feeling remorse,” he noted.
According to the latest figures released by the Vice-Presidency for Rural Development and Deprived Areas, currently more than 11 million Iranians are living in outlying areas of major cities including Tehran, Mashhad and Ahvaz.
Stating that slums are not located only in city fringes, he said, “In the past, the regions that lacked basic facilities were outlying areas, but at present, there are some neighborhoods in the central parts of cities where the situation is even worse,” citing District 12 in Tehran.
Unemployment among the youth in the country has almost doubled since 1990. Around 22% of young people between 15 and 29 are unemployed, accounting for 62% of the unemployed. Among males, roughly 18% are unable to find a job. Among women, unemployment is estimated at around 40%.
NGOs Can Help
Talaee Mahani said “the social issues facing us today occur in all countries during the transition from a ‘pre-modern’ or ‘traditional’ to a ‘modern’ society.” However, the way other countries have addressed their problems is different.
“While social problems are an integral part of transition to a modern society, they could be addressed in a beneficial way. And our responsibility is to use the advantages to counter the disadvantages,” he said.
Elaborating, he said as an example, NGOs are the most dynamic and effective networks of modern societies. At present, more than 2,270 NGOs are active in the country in the field of addiction treatment and prevention.”
Pointing to the fact that in some countries, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are major contributors to the development process, he urged the government to provide more support to NGOs as they can be effective in reducing social harm. He also noted that last year permits were issued to 500 youth NGOs.
Moeidfar pointed to Iranians’ lack of the sense of responsibility to address social problems. “It seems that a kind of culture of individualism has developed. In advanced countries, people may not show an abundance of affection to each other. However, on average each day they do hours of volunteer work to assist others.”
Strengthening Social Identity
At the end of the debate, Kuchakian pointed to plans which have been implemented recently to reduce social harms and said, “We have put emphasis on celebration of local, traditional festivals and promotion of indigenous sports in different parts of the country with the aim to help enhance the underlying social and cultural identity - the unique meaning, norms, value, and belief- of the communities. People with strong social identity are less likely to break rules and regulations.
He also said that by the end of the upcoming five-year economic, social and cultural development plan (2016-2021), about 80 youth centers will be established across the country. The centers will be set up in 10 major cities and 70 smaller ones and will be tasked with managing youth affairs, particularly activities of NGOs, and offer services in counseling and touristic activities.
A 12,000-strong team of specialists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists are operating under the auspices of the State Welfare Organization (SWO) with the aim of reducing social ills and the ensuing costs it imposes on the society, SWO Director Anoushiravan Mohseni Bandpei had said in March.
“Our main strategy in targeting social harm is to incorporate specialized teams in various fields. The SWO is shifting its approach from organization-centered to social and family-oriented programs.”