Girls are being deliberately poisoned in Iran using “chemical compounds” to keep them out of schools, according to a minister.
Iran’s deputy health minister Younes Panahi on Sunday said that “certain individuals sought the closure of all schools, especially girls’ schools”, without providing further details.
Hundreds of cases of respiratory poisoning have been reported among schoolgirls since November last year, mainly in the theological city of Qom. The poisonings have led to the hospitalisation of dozens of girls.
At least 14 schools have been targeted across four cities, including capital Tehran and the northwestern city of Ardebil.
The incident was first reported in Qom, which is home to Iran’s clergy and theological seminaries. It is located 100 miles south of the capital.
Earlier this month, livid parents of the students who had been ill gathered outside Qom’s governorate to “demand an explanation” from the education officials.
“We don’t want unsafe schools” and “schools must be secured”, chanted hundreds of protesters.
The victims reported symptoms of nausea, headaches, coughing, difficulty breathing and heart palpitations.
Majid Monemi, the deputy governor of Lorestan province, reportedly said on Sunday that 50 girls at a high school in Borujerd were poisoned.
Prosecutor general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri ordered a judicial probe into the poisoning reported last week.
So far, no one has been arrested for the poisonings.
The deliberate act of keeping young girls out of school comes months after furious protests against Iran’s Islamist leadership erupted over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, where she was kept for violating the country’s strict dress code.
The protests escalated into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling Shia clerics, marking a major challenge to their four-decade rule. Tehran has blamed the unrest on foreign powers.
Since the protests ensued in September, at least 470 demonstrators have been killed by security forces, 64 of them under the age of 18, while more than 18,200 people have been arrested, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency.