Outrage After Judicial Parliamentary Committee Rejects Bill to Ban Child Marriages in Iran
Two years after it was introduced to Iran’s Parliament, the parliamentary Committee for Judicial and Legal Affairs has rejected a bill to ban marriage for girls under the age of 13.
Civil rights advocates responded to the news by noting that some lawmakers will continue to push the bill forward while many Iranians expressed their outrage on social media.
Tayebeh Siavashi, a member of Parliament (MP) in the women’s faction, announced the news in a tweet on December 23, 2018, adding that a parliamentary majority had approved the general outline of the proposal in September 2018 after it was first introduced in 2016.
Siavashi noted that opponents of the bill claimed it was not in accordance with Sharia (Islamic law) and promoted assimilation to Western values.
“Unfortunately, our plan to ban marriage [for girls] under the age of 13 has been dismissed outright by the judiciary committee, even though earlier [the bill’s outline] had been approved with urgency by the [full] Parliament,” Siavashi tweeted.
“Opponents mostly mentioned theological matters and the Sharia as their reasons and of course they said we were imitating Western designs,” she added.
In another tweet on December 26, Siavashi wrote: “Unfortunately, our efforts in Parliament to confront child spouses did not get anywhere and destructive efforts were more successful. Nevertheless, civil institutions are playing a positive role in seeking the realization of this demand and lawmakers like us are standing by them. Let us not forget that the practice of child spouses is harmful to society.”
Yahya Kamalipour, a senior member of the Committee for Judicial and Legal Affairs, meanwhile stated that the proposal had been turned down due to “the opposition of religious authorities.”
However, the year the bill was first introduced in 2016, some well-known conservative clerics expressed support for the notion of banning child marriages.
Indeed, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a staunch conservative with close ties to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, declared child marriages “null and void and without merit” via a post on his website:
“In the past, parents were even given permission to choose a spouse for their adolescent child and usually no problems occurred. But in our current day and age, it has effectively been proven that these kinds of marriages are not in the interest of the girl or the boy and cause particular kinds of corruption and since we must have their interests in mind, such marriages are null and void and without merit.”
Conservatives Rehash Smear Campaign
One of the main claims made by opponents of the bill, that it imitates “Western designs,” is a derogatory reference to UNESCO’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, non-binding UN guidelines that President Hassan Rouhani failed to implement after they were smeared in a campaign led by religious conservatives.
“One of the criticisms has been that they say we wrote the proposal based on the 2030 Agenda, but this is completely untrue,” Sivashi said.
Adopted by UNESCO in 2015, the 2030 agenda aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” The agency was entrusted to “lead and coordinate” the agenda with “governments and partners on how to turn commitments into action.”
However, in a speech to the staff of the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council on May 7, 2017, Khamenei accused the government of “quietly” adopting the UN’s “anti-Islamic” recommendations “on behalf of influential world powers.”
Those alleged “anti-Islamic” recommendations include educating adults and children about sexual abuse.
“Iranian society is virtually defenseless in dealing with these issues [of child sexual abuse] not just because of a lack of education, but also the absence of institutions where victims could turn to for protection without fear,” Said Peyvandi, a member of UNESCO’s Peace and Education Commission, told CHRI in September 2017.
Shortly before the bill was rejected, on December 11, MP Parvaneh Salahshouri decried the politicization of a human rights issue.
“It seems this bill, like all the ones similar to it, has unfortunately become political,” she tweeted. “The truth is that we are really looking at this from a social and cultural perspective and seeking to solve a social problem. We will not be able to advance reform through these kinds of bills if we continue to look at various issues through a political lens.”
Warning opponents of the consequences of rejecting the proposal, Siavashi added, “I hope each and every lawmaker, as well as other opponents of the bill, will realize the outcome of their decision today and understand the harm society and Iranian children have suffered from child marriages. In regards to the Sharia, I refer you to the decree banning marriage under the age of 13 issued by His Excellency Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi in a meeting with lawmakers.”
Siavashi also noted that she would continue to pursue the matter in Parliament.
“The proposal has been rejected but we will read the opponents’ report in the open session of Parliament and pursue the matter as necessary within legislative regulations,” she said.
According to Iran’s parliamentary rules, reports issued by committees (after votes) can be read out in open sessions. After that, lawmakers can vote again and send proposals back for further deliberation.
However, it remains unclear whether this scenario could lead to the passing of the bill.
After Bill’s Rejection, Girls Can Still be married Off at 13
The so-called “child spouse” bill, introduced to Parliament in 2016, proposes an absolute ban on the marriage of girls under age 13 and an absolute ban for the marriage of boys under 16.
For the marriage of girls between the ages of 13-16 and for boys between the ages 16-18, the bill would require parental consent and court permission. Marriage for girls over 16 and for boys over 18 would require no court permission.
Currently, girls in Iran can be legally married at age 13 and boys at 15—and even younger—including girls as young as nine lunar years of age—with a father’s and judge’s consent.
The most recent statistics about child marriages in Iran, published in 2016, showed girls under the age of 18 made up 17 percent of all marriages in the country. Also, on December 11, 2016, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), reported that according to the National Organization for Civil Registration, more than five percent of marriages between March 2015, and December 2015 included children under the age of 15. During the same period, more than 204,000 girls got married between the ages of 15 and 19.
On September 26, 2018, the outlines of an urgent proposal to revise Article 1041 of Iran’s Civil Code regarding marriage was approved by 151 of the 204 members present in Parliament. The proposal called for a ban on marriage for girls under 13 and boys under 16 years of age.
Later that day, MP Ahmad Amirabadi, a representative from the city of Qom speaking on behalf of opponents of the bill, said, “Without a doubt, the Guardian Council will reject anything that is considered to be against the divine principles of Islamic Sharia.”
He added that lawmakers should not be discussing such matters at a time when the country is struggling economically.
Homayoun Hashemi, another lawmaker, responded, “Amirabadi, I’m very sorry for you for minimizing a big problem like this. Would you allow your own relative three-times removed to go through such a marriage, let alone your own children?”
Child Marriages Violate International Conventions Ratified by Iran
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which Iran signed in 1991, any person under the age of 18 is considered a child. Yet significant numbers of marriages between girls and boys well under that age continue to take place in Iran despite the ratification of the UNCRC by Iran’s Parliament in 1994.
In the Concluding Observations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the combined third and fourth periodic reports of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Committee expressed “serious concern” that despite its previous recommendations, the age of maturity remained set at 9 lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys, “which results in girls and boys above those ages being deprived of the protections under the Convention” and which “gravely violates rights under the Convention and places children, in particular girls, at risk of forced, early and temporary marriages, with irreversible consequences on their physical and mental health and development.”
The Committee urged Iran to “revise, as a matter of urgency and priority, its legislation in order to ensure that all persons below the age of 18 years, without exceptions, are considered as children and are provided with all the rights under the Convention. The Committee also urges the State party to further increase the minimum age for marriage for both girls and boys to 18 years, and to take all necessary measures to eliminate child marriages in line with the State party’s obligations under the Convention.”
Meanwhile, Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Iran is also a signatory to, states that “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family,” which means children cannot freely and logically make such decisions for themselves because mentally they are not yet fully developed.
In an interview with the state-funded Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) on December 24, 2018, MP Hassan Norouzi, the spokesman for the parliamentary Committee for Judicial and Legal Affairs, which shot down the bill, said he opposed it because it raised the age of marriage for girls in Iran to 16, which he compared to France’s legal age of 15.
Norouzi did not mention that the bill also seeks to prohibit girls from marrying before the age of 13, with the exception of those who have parental approval and judicial consent—a provision that exists in no other country.
According to Norouzi, if proponents want to amend the Civil Code’s Article 1041, they need to seek the approval of the Expediency Council, Iran’s highest arbiter of disputes between state branches.
In 1934, Article 1041 of the Civil Code set the minimum age of marriage at 15 for girls and 18 for boys. In 1975, Family Protection Law increased the age of marriage to 18 for girls and 20 for boys. But after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the marriage age was lowered. In 1982, the marriage age was changed to 9 (lunar years) for girls and 15 (lunar years) for boys. Then in 2002, the marriage age for girls was set at 13 and 15 for boys with a clause that 9-year-old girls could get married with parental permission and the court’s consent.
“Who Wants to Get Married at Age 12?” Iranians Decry Continuation of Child Marriage in Iran
Reacting to the proposal’s rejection by the parliamentary committee, civil rights activist Mina Kamran posted a video of two young girls speaking against child marriage, adding, “Who wants to get married at age 12? Share this video so that our so-called lawmakers who favor such marriages feel ashamed about how they are playing with the souls and lives of these little girls.”
Journalist and women’s rights activist Narges Ravani tweeted: “The MPs who voted against the ban on child marriages either have no daughters or they are willing to put a wedding dress on their nine-year-old. Why do they think a little girl is capable of putting down her doll and carrying the weight of marriage?”
Azade Mokhtari, also a journalist, tweeted, “Last year more than 1,400 cases of marriages of girls under the age of 15 were registered in Iran. I’m sure unregistered child marriages were even higher than that. Even so, the Parliamentary Committee for Judicial and Legal Affairs rejected the ban on child marriages. Male lawmakers were the main reason why it was voted down.”
Elham Yousefian, an advocate of the rights of people with disabilities, tweeted: “Having sexual relations with a child under the age of 13 is a flagrant example of rape because a child’s consent is not valid. All those who played a part in the rejection of this proposal share the moral responsibility in the rapes that take place with the backing of the law.”
Journalist Amirhossein Mosalla commented, “I hope one day the judiciary chief will be an elected lawyer rather than an appointed cleric. Maybe then we won’t have to rely on contradictory religious decrees to try to confront such obvious crimes as child marriages.”
Dadi Baba, an Iranian citizen on Twitter wrote, “I think child marriages are the worst examples of sexual assault because it involves the consent of the innocent child’s parents as well as the support of the law.”
And independent journalist Saeed Maleki tweeted, “Now that the parliamentary judiciary committee didn’t vote for the ban on child marriages, please publish the names of these so-called lawmakers as well as the number of their (formal and informal) wives!”