The three offenders, according to HRW, had all previously been convicted of murder. On January 4, Amirhossein Pourjafar was executed in a prison near the large city of Karaj for the rape and murder of a three-year-old-girl when he was 16.
On January 30, two executions were carried out. The first was of Mahboubeh Mofidi at Nowshahr prison in northern Iran. Mofidi had been convicted of murdering her husband when she was 17. The second was of Ali Kazemi at Bushehr prison in southern Iran for a killing an opponent in a street fight when he was just 15.
Pourjafar was 18 when he was executed. In December 2017, he told the Shargh newspaper that he was drunk during the time of the incident, and his lawyer Mojtaba Farahbakhsh claimed that his client suffered from mental illness. Mofidi, who had been married to her husband when she was 13, was 20 at the time of her execution.
The Society of Students Against Poverty, a student nongovernmental organization that works to protect the rights of Iranian juveniles, tried to stop the execution of Kazemi, who was 22 at the time of his death. The society claimed that authorities promised to halt the execution, and Amnesty International reported that prison authorities told Kazemi's family that he was alive and the execution would not be carried out.
Then he was executed anyway.
"Iran seems intent on erasing any positive impression gained from modest reforms to its drug execution laws last year by hanging several child offenders in a bloody start to 2018," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, in a statement.
"When will Iran's judiciary actually carry out its alleged mission, ensuring justice, and end this deplorable practice of executing children?"
Since the election of the reform-sympathetic President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, Iran has enacted some social reforms, including a 2013 penal code amendment that prohibited the execution of child offenders for lesser crimes such as drug offenses.
For more serious crimes, the reform leaves the death penalty to the discretion of the judge, although it prohibits them from passing a death sentence on a juvenile who cannot comprehend the nature and consequences of their crime.
Amnesty International and Iran Human Rights say that this stymied, but did not put an end to, Iranian execution of child offenders. At least 25 people were executed for crimes they committed as minors from 2014 to 2017.
"Iranian authorities often claim they are treated 'unfairly' by the international community for their human rights record, but they only hurt their case when they have the shameful distinction of leading the world in executions for crimes committed by children," Whitson said.
Only four countries in the world have executed child offenders in the last four years: Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Gaza, a self-governing Palestinian territory, has also done so.
All four countries are signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a 1990 human rights treaty that forbids, among other things, capital punishment for juveniles. Every UN member save for the US has ratified the CRC.
Iran, Pakistan and Yemen are also parties to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a separate 1976 UN treaty ratified by 169 countries that guarantees numerous human rights, including barring use of the death penalty on juveniles and pregnant women. Notable holdouts including China, Cuba, Malaysia, Myanmar, North Korea, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, the UAE and Western Sahara.
Iran is thought to be the second largest user of the death penalty in the world, with 525 executions claimed by human rights groups in 2017. Only China, which allegedly executed 1,551 people in 2017, prevents the Islamic Republic from claiming this dubious honor.