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Stifled by her family life and troubled by her lack of personal finances, year-old Mona began selling her body in Tehran two years ago. The woman, whom Mona identifies as year-old Zari, eventually invited Mona to her home and suggested to the year-old that she start having sex for money.
There would be no pressure, Zari insisted. She would simply bring Mona along to meet a client and only continue the encounter if she wanted. These days, Mona has a variety of clients, from year-old boys to year-old married men. Zari refers them all to her, and receives a third of every payment. Despite its social stigma, prostitution is a burgeoning problem in major Iranian cities , where a public reluctance to recognize and discuss the issue means that the trade operates in deep illegality.
Public health and non-governmental organizations run a handful of rehabilitative programs for prostitutes, but a majority of sex work transpires under the radar of authorities. Still, the presence of young street women - and the men who seek out their services in parks, squares and other public places - is difficult to ignore. Despite a dearth of comprehensive data on prostitution, research by health institutions, universities, and the prison system indicates that most girls active in the Tehran sex trade are high school-age.
Leila, 19, is HIV positive and started sleeping with men for money when she was She says she has been pregnant once, and got an illegal abortion two months into the pregnancy with the help of her friends. The average age range of sex workers in Iran has fallen to , down from just one decade before, according to a report by the Iranian sociological association.
More recent studies from Shahid Beheshti University confirm this pattern: Over a period of seven years, the average age fell to below 20, says staff researcher Majid Abhari. According to his estimates, some thousand female prostitutes work in major urban centers like Tehran and Mashhad. Local sociologists and public health experts typically approach youth prostitution as a pathology, a result of corruption by western culture. But the personal motivations of the young Iranian girls who become prostitutes point to a more complex sociocultural dynamic.