“In Iran, children who are born out of incestuous or illegitimate relationships and live in an orphanage are often seen as a product of sin,” Kakaee explains. They are considered children of “incorrect” relationships, and are generally treated worse than others.
Even as an 18-year-old working at the orphanage, Kakaee could not understand this questionable moral view. Instead, she wanted to help the children be noticed; she wanted to use her own voice on their behalf. “After all, the children can’t advocate for themselves,” she says.
After finishing secondary school and working at the orphanage, Kakaee began studying psychology. She also got involved with an NGO whose mission is to give street children and child laborers more formal education. Calling it “educational adoption,” she and other volunteers asked prosperous families to pay for books and clothes for needy children so that they could attend school and learn. “It was a tough job,” Kakaee says, looking back. “Even if we managed to achieve something in society at large, the government was often in the way nonetheless. There was always a new obstacle that sprang up.”
Kakaee increasingly supported not only children’s rights, but also the rights of women and human rights in general – in Iran, a risky undertaking, as she discovered in 2009. At the time, she was involved in a human rights committee that denounced government use of force against the Iranian populace. She was arrested for her activities and spent more than a month in prison. After she was released, Kakaee managed to flee to Turkey.
What she left behind at the time was her homeland – a homeland where, not long afterward, she was sentenced in absentia to a six-year prison term. What she took with her was her sense for people in need. A few months later, she arrived in Germany and started the three-semester master’s program in Children’s Rights at Freie Universität. The interdisciplinary program is dedicated to studying this topic from various perspectives: economic, psychological, political, and philosophical. She had already made contact with the university long before she was arrested in Iran.
Kakaee is currently writing her thesis, on the topic of child prostitution in Bulgaria. She plans to fight the exploitation of children in the Middle East or Asia later on. And someday in the distant future – if political circumstances ever permit – she hopes, perhaps, to return to Iran.
In terms of the core question that drives her, though, Kakaee could actually look for answers anywhere. “Many adults who talk about children don’t talk about their needs,” she says. “So what we have to discuss is: How can we create opportunities for children to speak for themselves?”