Mahsa is 17. She falls in love with a boy and intends to marry him, but her father is against the marriage. One day she has an argument with her father, and she and her mother decide to kill the father. Mahsa kills her father with a kitchen knife, and now her brothers are requesting the death penalty or lex talionis for her and her mother.
Women inmates can keep their newborns with them in prison until they are two years old. Zahra was married at 14 and has two children. She is 17 now, and she is in jail on the charge of stealing mobile phones. She has been in prison on charge of theft three times.
In a prison located in Shahr-e ziba, Iran, adolescent girls are living out childhoods behind bars. In anywhere from several years to a few weeks, when they turn eighteen and are of legal age to qualify for capital punishment, some will die. For crimes committed when they were as young as nine years old, sometimes in self-defense, they are scheduled to be hanged.
For his series Waiting Girls, or Girls Waiting for Capital Punishment, Iranian photographer Sadegh Souri tells the story of his nation’s young imprisoned women, many of whom will die before their lives ever begin. While boys must be fifteen in order to be sentenced to death, girls aged nine to seventeen are sometimes ordered to be killed for crimes like murder, robbery, and drug trafficking.
Life in jail is often a lonely one, with few visitors or friendly faces. Some have been disowned by family; some of the children have children of their own. The young ladies spend up to two hours outside per day; education and playtime is limited.
After spending time with the girls, watching as their lives ticked away towards what sometimes seemed like a firm and irrevocable end, Souri was struck by how kind and open they were. He tells a story not of criminals but of children, experiencing the same sorrows and joys all young people endure, but caught up in a system that lies well beyond their control.
The clergyman goes to the Correction Centre, the ward for girls under 18, every day for the congregational prayer. After prayers, he speaks about the correct methods of upbringing for girls and prays to God to forgive them.
The girls wait long hours in the queue for food.
Nazanin is 16. She was arrested about 6 months ago for the possession of 651 grams of cocaine.
Sanaz is 17. She and her boyfriend extorted money using cold and warm weapons. They took taxi drivers out of the city and extorted all their money and savings. They used warm weapons a few times and wounded some drivers.
The girls come to the prison yard for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.
Sowgand is 16. When she was alone at home, the officers entered their house with a search warrant, and they found 250 kg of opium and 30 grams of cocaine. The narcotics belonged to her father, but as only Sowgand was at home when the officers arrived, she was arrested, and to protect her father against going to prison, she confessed the narcotics were hers.
Mahshid is 15. She is in jail on the charge of an illegitimate affair and carrying narcotics. Her parents are in prison too on the charge of possessing and using narcotics. Mahshid will be released after serving her 8-month term.
Khatereh is 13. She was sexually abused by her uncle, so she decided to run away from home. One week later, a few youths attacked her in a park in Tehran and tried to gang rape her. To save herself, she wounded her arm with a knife. The police officers found her unconscious on the ground. After treatment, she was transferred to Juvenile Delinquents Correction Centre. She will be released in two months and will return home.
Khatereh looks at her arm and wonders if her wound will heal some day.
All images © Sadegh Souri
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