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Child Marriage In Iran: Is 13 Too Young? Some Are Even Younger

The Islamic Republic allows girls as young as 13 to marry legally. On top of that, a lack of enforcement means that elementary school age children may be forced into marriage as well.

People walking past a closed wedding dress store in Tehran, Iran
People walking past a closed wedding dress store in Tehran, Iran

Images shared on social media platforms have turned new attention to the issue of underage marriage in Iran, where critics say the government too often turns a blind eye to the practice.

The photos in question are of a six-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl in a medical clinic in the district of Kazerun in southern Iran. The assumption is that they're being tested ahead of their possible marriage, presumably as planned by their families.

The head of the Kazerun health care authority, Bandar Baramaki, confirmed that the tests were because the families were concerned about prior cases of thalassemia (a blood disorder) in both families. Nevertheless, he downplays the child marriage angle.

"We don't know whether later on they will marry or not, and even if they wanted to they could not, because two people with thalassemia cannot marry," he says.

Likewise, the local judiciary responded by saying that the children were Afghans and that the families in question, "with regard for their customs," were indeed planning to have the children marry, but only after they reach "legal" age, namely 13 for girls and 15 for boys.

The Kazerun Public and Revolutionary Court warned it would act against anyone "publishing fake news and subjects."

But critics say that in this case, public officials are the ones who are twisting the information as a way to cover up the reality of underage marriages, which are on the rise with poorer families being offered money for their children.

The laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran require marriage parties to register with a notary and provide valid identity papers (with photos) proving their age. It appears, however, that the law is not being respected or enforced.

Social platform users have used #No2IR (short for "no to the Islamic Republic") to denounce the regime's position on underage marriage — both legal (by allowing girls as young as 13 to marry) and de facto (by turning a blind eye to cases involving even younger children) — as simply horrendous.

She says underage marriage figures "are not that high."

According to figures from the Iran Statistics Center, in the three-month period from March 20, 2020, more than 7,000 girls aged 10 to 14 years were married, with one girl aged less than 10 also registered as married. The same body found that the mothers of 346 children born in that period were not yet 15 years old, with mothers aged 15 to 19 giving birth to some 16,000 babies. Additionally, it counted 131 divorces involving a wife aged less than 14 years, and 2,650 divorcées aged 15 to 19 years.

The country's vice-president for women and family affairs, Ma'sumeh Ebtekar, says underage marriage figures "are not that high" and that Iran has a "strong" reactive system to block such situations.

For years now, a bill to raise the legal marriage age to 18 has been circulating between the presidency, parliament and the Guardian Council. The latter body ensures legislation does not contravene the constitution or religious laws.

In late Feb. 2021, the district of Namin in the province of Ardabil registered 120 underage marriages in one notary alone. The Namin chief prosecutor, Azim Akbari, says those were "just some of the cases of underage marriage that were identified" — presumably in the province — though he adds that as time passed, it was difficult to find out when exactly couples had married.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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