A group of women at Friday prayers at the University of Tehran | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/LUCIANA BORSATTI
A group of women at Friday prayers at the University of Tehran | Photo: ARCHIVE/ANSA/LUCIANA BORSATTI

A new law gives Iranian mothers who are married to foreign citizens the right to pass their citizenship to their children. 800,000 children of Iranian women and Afghan men can now become citizens. One of them -- 27-year-old Soheila -- told us her story.

Soheila Hosseini lived like a ghost for the first 27 years of her life, without identification documents and without the right to go to school or receive medical treatment in a hospital. This desperate situation nearly pushed her to prostitute herself in order to get false documents from a corrupt official. Now, however, she told ANSA, she finally feels she has "the right to exist." 

That's because Iran approved a law in early October that gives Iranian mothers who are married to foreign men the right to pass their citizenship to their children. Soheila is one of approximately 800,000 children of Iranian mothers and Afghan immigrants, the majority of whom are undocumented. Thusfar, these people had no opportunity to get Iranian papers, despite the fact they were born in Iran. 

Three million Afghan immigrants in Iran 

As a result of conflicts that have afflicted Afghanistan for more than 40 years, there many Afghans are living in Iran. According to UN estimates, there are some three million Afghan immigrants in Iran, two million of whom are undocumented.

Soheila's father came to the country without a visa 35 years ago and got false documents with which he was able to work and get married to an Iranian woman. But his condition as an undocumented migrant prohibited him from registering Soheila and her two sisters as Afghans. 

'No hope for a normal life'

Until recently, the law did not allow mothers to pass their Iranian citizenship to their children. 

Soheila, who lives in Mashhad, in northeast Iran, remembers that when she grew up, she and her sisters realized that "there was no hope for a normal life." 

"My father bought a fake ID card for me, but the age on the card was four years older than my actual age," she said. "So I let my older sister, Banu, use it so she could go to school. My other sister and I started studying at home, using audio and video and Banu's school books to help us."

'Luckily my mother found out before it was too late'

Things got worse, however, when their father abandoned the family. "I was 11 years old and I had to start working in the fields with my mother, getting up at four in the morning," Soheila said. "Years later I understood that if we had needed it, my sisters and I wouldn't have even been able to go to a hospital. Not to mention learning a trade, finding a job, or getting married."

When she was a teen, Soheila asked a worker in a public records office to get her fake identity documents. He agreed, but asked for sexual favors in return. "I was desperate, and I accepted," Soheila recalled with tears in her eyes. "But luckily my mother found out before it was too late, and brought me to my senses." 

Soheila starts a new life


Now, for Soheila and many like her, a new life begins. For her documents, finally legal, she has chosen a new name: Nazanin. "I want to enroll in a school for adults and work in a tailor shop. My precarious existence has found a certainty, and I feel that many opportunities are opening up before me," she said. 
 

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