Marriage of girl children, or child marriage, is one of the worst forms of violence against young girls which has been institutionalized in the clerical regime’s laws and constitution in Iran. It has become commonplace due to the spread of poverty under the mullahs’ rule.
During the 16 days of activism to eliminate violence against women and girls, we will discuss the various forms of violence against women and girls in Iran. Violence against women exists everywhere. The difference in Iran is that such violence is state-sanctioned and institutionalized in the regime’s laws and constitution.
Marriage of girl children, or child marriage, does not have cultural roots in Iran. They have turned into a social catastrophe due to the policies of the mullahs’ regime.
Under the clerical regime’s laws, 9-year-old girls are viewed as adults without consideration of their intellectual or social maturity, or even their physical development. According to the Iranian regime’s laws, the legal age for marriage for girls is 13 years old. However, the practice of marrying young girls and subjecting them to sexual assault is cloaked under the title of “wife.”
Article 1041 of the Civil Code permits the marriage of girls under the age of 13 with the court’s approval, consent from the guardian, and the vague requirement of “observance of expediency.”
In Iran, mothers lack the right to influence the fate of their children. The civil law grants authority to fathers, paternal grandfathers, and judges to compel girls into marriage at any age.
Government experts suggest that economic poverty is the primary reason families acquiesce to marrying off their daughters. The child’s father, mother, or guardian often demands dowry and payments from the man’s family for their daughter’s marriage (The state-run Baharnews.ir, January 30, 2020).
The Escalating Marriage of Girl Children in Iran
A review of annual statistics paints a troubling picture, revealing that over the past decade, more than 15,000 girls under the age of 15 have given birth in Iran. Furthermore, data from the Iranian Civil Registry Organization spanning from 2013 to 2020 suggests that over one million girls under the age of 18 were married in Iran. (The state-run ISNA news agency, April 13, 2022)
According to the latest report from the Iranian National Statistics Center (NSC), between the winter of 2022 and the end of the fall of 2022, no fewer than 27,448 marriages of girl children involving girls under the age of 15 were registered in various parts of Iran.
The state-run Arman-e Melli daily reported on July 27, 2021, that in every 24 hours, 100 marriages of girl children under the age of 15 are registered in Iran.
Of great concern is that the majority of these married girls become mothers at a very young age. A May 2022 report from the Registration Organization revealed that, in 2021, at least 69,103 babies were born to mothers between the ages of 10 to 19, with 1,474 babies born to mothers aged 10 to 14. (The state-run Etemadonline.com, May 21, 2023)
The Grave Consequences of Child Marriage on Girls’ Physical and Mental Well-being
Child marriage constitutes violence against children. Unfortunately, the incentives for the marriage of girl children have increased, with many girls experiencing sexual intercourse with considerably older men, constituting sexual violence against a child. It is accompanied by coercion, verbal abuse, forced denial of education, and manipulation, which systematically strip these children of their rights. In many cases, these young brides don’t even realize their rights have been denied. (The state-run salamatnews.ir, March 7, 2022)
Statistics reveal that women are more susceptible to contracting dangerous viruses, including hepatitis and HIV, than men. Furthermore, the highest number of girls infected with such diseases falls between the ages of 15 and 24. Hence, child brides are more vulnerable to various sexually transmitted and life-threatening diseases. Complications such as high blood pressure during pregnancy, blood infections, and bleeding are more common among girls under 15, putting their lives at greater risk, especially as they are more prone to domestic violence, child abuse, and forced sexual relations and abuse compared to women married at a suitable age or children living in their family. (The state-run Baharnews.ir, January 30, 2020)
The psychological consequences of child marriage are equally devastating. Such unions often separate girls from their childhood, cutting off their relationships with their family and friends. Instead, they are thrust into the responsibility of adult life, burdened with household chores and childcare, which can lead to depression and anxiety.
The toll of these dire conditions can drive many of these girls to run away from home, attempt suicide, or even harm their spouses due to their inability to tolerate the unequal circumstances and their inability to resolve issues. All of this leads to graver consequences for them under the oppressive rule of the misogynistic mullahs’ system.
Child widows, whose lives have barely begun, are yet another sorrowful consequence of these oppressive rules. In May 2018, a former member of the mullahs’ parliament, Massoumeh Aghapour Alishahi exposed the existence of 24,000 child widows, all under the age of 18. (The state-run ROKNA news agency – May 28, 2018)
Child abuse and violence against girl children
In Iran, the majority of violence statistics are centered around incidents of spousal abuse and child abuse, with girls being more often victimized by child abuse compared to boys. (The state-run ISNA news agency, May 26, 2018)
Government pathologist Morteza Pedarian highlights that both sexual and physical child abuse can be attributed to underlying social injustices. He asserts that the structural issues within our society propel the occurrence of child abuse, sexual abuse, and child labor. (The state-run imna.ir news agency, October 20, 2020)
The latest statistics provided by the Forensic Medicine Organization reveal that in 2021, there were approximately 75,000 cases of domestic violence, including incidents of spousal abuse and child abuse. (The state-run salameno.com, July 26, 2022)
Reza Jafari, the head of social emergency, expressed his concerns in March 2019, noting that violence in Iran has become widespread, with no specific geographical boundaries. (The state-run jahanesanat.ir, November 19, 2020)
Sexual abuse of girl children in Iran
Another distressing consequence of the mullahs’ misogynistic rule in Iran is the pervasive issue of sexual harassment. Sexual assault has the power to profoundly alter the psychological well-being of the victim and inflict a range of damages that affect various aspects of their life.
Unfortunately, due to the patriarchal structure under the mullahs’ rule, victims of such abuse are often met with blame and labeling, causing many cases to remain concealed or undisclosed by the victims and their families. This situation is exacerbated in Iran, where government corruption has, in many instances, involved state agents and institutions in acts of rape and sexual harassment.
The state of available statistics in this area is far from transparent. The clerical regime is notorious for withholding clear and comprehensive statistics across all domains, with topics related to sexual harassment being especially shrouded in taboo within Iranian society.
In August 2022, the media exposed a case of a 55-year-old teacher who had raped 8 to 11-year-old female students in the parking of his house, terrorizing the children by threatening to pour boiling water on them if they disclosed the incidents to their parents.
Several of these children developed severe mental disorders, characterized by withdrawal, isolation, nighttime crying, and an aversion to communicating with others, arousing suspicion from their families.
This man, in court, brazenly asserted that he had exploited the misogynistic laws of the clerical regime on temporary marriage (sigheh) to coerce and enslave these girls. Following legal proceedings, he was sentenced to 7 years and 3 months in prison, along with a 2-year prohibition from residing in the relevant city. (The state-run etemadonline.ir, July 24, 2022)
Another case that garnered attention in state media involved a 30-year-old woman who subjected three girls, aged 8 to 11, to abuse while they worked in her household. These children hailed from marginalized families in the slums in the outskirts of Shahriar city.
Most of the residents of these peripheral areas, like Vireh, are immigrants (from other cities or villages). They grapple with poverty, unemployment, and limited awareness of their rights.
In a particularly distressing case, a 30-year-old woman lured three girls, two of whom were sisters, into her home by promising them employment and wages for their families. Tragically, she subjected these girls to various forms of sexual abuse over a span of four months. Several months later, a social worker noticed a change in the children’s behavior. Subsequent psychological evaluations confirmed the sexual abuse they had endured, and the girls began to disclose their harrowing ordeal.
After several painstaking months of legal advocacy and tireless efforts, the court issued a judgment, albeit lacking an official paper, proper numbering, or classification. Astonishingly, the ruling merely imposed a fine of 500,000 tomans, with a generous reduction of 200,000 tomans. Consequently, after inflicting severe physical, psychological, and future damages upon three young girls, the perpetrator was penalized with a mere 300,000 tomans and released by the mullahs’ Judiciary. (The state-run didarnews.ir, June 8, 2020)
Reza Shafakhah, the lawyer handling this case, underscored a critical issue in crimes involving women and children notably that evidence often falls short of contemporary standards. For instance, one such requirement is the presence of four virtuous witnesses to substantiate a rape claim. Yet, it is implausible that such heinous acts would occur in the presence of four virtuous witnesses. Furthermore, the accused is expected to confess to the crime, which, in reality, seldom transpires. (The state-run didarnews.ir, June 8, 2020)
As noted in the abovementioned facts and documentation, the main cause of the problems relating to the marriage of girl children, and early and forced marriages of young girls, lies in the laws that sanction them and fail to properly punish the perpetrators of child abuse.
The NCRI Women’s Committee urges the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls to examine the cases of violation of the rights of girl children in Iran and the laws that sanction early and forced marriage of girl children while failing to punish the perpetrators of child abuse.