Abducted Childhood: Iranian Girls Married off at Puberty

Tahereh was not even 10 years old when her parents brought her a ring and a wedding shawl and started the pre-marriage arrangements for a traditional wedding ceremony, IranWire reports.

“The moment my mother learned that I had had my period, she and my father had a whispered conversation. And a couple of days later my aunt’s family came with a ring and told me that now I was an adult and I was going to be my aunt’s daughter-in-law,” says Tahereh.

Tahereh is now 22 and has three children with her husband, her cousin Rahman, and live in the northwestern province of Ardabil. Tahereh’s marriage to her cousin Rahman was arranged the moment that she was born. In their village, girls between the ages of 10 and 15 don wedding gowns and marry young men between 18 and 22.

But although this is common practice in this village in Ardabil, it also happens across Iran — and not only in rural communities.

“Some believe that these marriages happen only in villages. But we see child marriages in the outlying areas of big cities and even among traditional families in big cities,” the social worker Z. Mousavi told IranWire.

She says that child marriages in Iran are actually on the increase, even though the average age of marriage in the country has gone up.

In 2016, Shahla Ezazi, a professor of sociology at Allameh Tabatabai University and the Director of Women’s Studies Group, also warned that child marriages were on the rise.

“Compared to last year, there were 10,000 more child marriages in Iran,” she told a seminar.

“As a result, the rate of divorce among 10- to 18-year olds has also picked up.”

“The marriage of 37,000 girls younger than 13 in Iran is a calamity. Of this number, 179 girls were under 10,” tweeted Nahid Khoda-Karami, a female member of Tehran City Council and a member of the faculty of Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences.

International law considers forced marriage a type of slavery and forbids it. But Iran does not forbid child marriage.

In Iran, girls can legally marry at 13, and boys at 15. But the law also states that if a girl’s father finds that it serves his daughter’s interests he can arrange for her to marry before she reaches the age of 13. As a result, Iran effectively has no minimum age for marriage.

But how does the court decide what is in the best interests of children?

“The law lacks any criteria for defining the best interests of the child and for authorizing an underage marriage. Some judges believe that the child is unable to decide what is in her best interest, so they do not ask the child about it. But legally this is wrong. It is absolutely necessary for the child to consent and she must be questioned about it,” the lawyer Musa Barzin Khalifehloo told IranWire.

According to Article 1041 of the Iranian Civil Code, marriage before “the age of maturity” is prohibited. But the code also contains a proviso that states that “marriage before puberty by the permission of the Guardian and on condition of taking into consideration the ward’s interest is proper.”

Last year, Fatemeh Zolghadr, a reformist member of the parliament from Tehran, reported that the reform of Article 1041 was underway. The proposed amendments to the bill would impose a ban on the marriage of girls under 18 and are due to be tabled in parliament once religious authorities give their permission. But there are staunch opponents of the proposed reform, even among women.

According to Mousavi, changing the law will not prevent child marriages alone since many child marriages are not registered until the girl reaches the legal age. Because of this tendency to avoid registering marriages among some parts of the population, there are no accurate statistics for child marriage in Iran.

But the National Organization for Civil Registration (NOCR) and other government agencies do publish official figures, albeit infrequently, and they confirm that child marriage is on the rise. In 2012, the NOCR announced that in that year 1,537 girls under 10 and 29,872 girls between the ages of 10 and 12 had entered into a marriage.

However, statistics published in 2013 were more shocking. The organization announced that, in just nine months, marriages involving more than 31,000 girls under the age of 15 girls had been registered. The most recent figures put the number at 37,000.

In 2013, in a short study titled “Stolen Lives, Empty Classrooms”, the non-profit human rights organization Justice for Iran analyzed the 2012 statistics on child marriages by province. The analysis showed that, compared to other provinces, marriages of girls under 10 years of age is much more widespread in Ardabil.