By Natasha Phillips
3 Jan – A proposed parliamentary bill in Iran to raise the age of marriage for girls and boys in Iran has been rejected by the Parliamentary Committee for Judicial and Legal Affairs. The veto comes as marriage rates continue to drop among young adults in Iran, with the latest figures suggesting that nearly half of 18- to 35 year-olds in Iran remain single.
The draft legislation, sometimes referred to as the child spouse bill, prohibits the marriage of girls under 13 and boys under 16. Girls aged between 13 and 16, and boys aged between 16 and 18 need parental consent and the court’s permission to get married under the terms of the bill. No permission is required for girls older than 16 and boys older than 18, according to the proposed law.
Currently, boys of 15 or younger and girls as young as 8 years and 7 months (9 lunar years) can be married with the consent of the child’s father and a judge. UNICEF estimates that around 17 percent of girls are married in Iran before the age of 18, and 3 percent of girls are married by the time they are 15 years old.
The child spouse bill was presented to the Majlis, or Parliament, in 2016, one year after the Iranian government launched a match-making site for young Iranians. Iranian officials — alarmed by what they viewed as young people’s drift away from Islamic values and by falling birth rates at the time — launched the site, called “Find Your Equal,” in June 2015 to encourage the country’s 11 million single Iranians in their twenties and early thirties to get married and have children.
The website features clerics and professionals considered to have good standing within their communities, such as doctors and teachers acting as mediators between the youngsters. Once a match is made, a formal introduction to the families is arranged. The meeting is sometimes followed up by a psychological examination to assess the couple’s compatibility.
During the website’s trial year in 2014, government officials claimed that the service’s matchmakers had introduced 3,000 men and women to one another, which resulted in 100 couples getting married. The government announced that it intended to enable 100,000 marriages during the service’s inaugural year. However, statistics from the National Organization for Civil Registration show that 724,324 marriages were registered in Iran nationwide in 2015. The figure represents a decrease from the previous year of 50,189, as 774,513 marriages were registered in 2014 across the country. It is not clear how many of the marriages registered were organized by the government’s matchmaking site.
Divorce rates in Iran are also on the rise. In 2015, 164,000 divorces were registered, to the dismay of conservative clerics. Hamid Reza Jalaipour, a sociologist at Tehran University, believes there is a link between divorce and the changing status of women in Iran: “There has been a big growth in individualism in Iran, especially among women. Women are more educated and have increased financial empowerment… It used to be that a woman would marry and she would just have to get along. Now if she’s not happy, she’ll separate. It’s not taboo.” Data from 2017 indicates that Iran now has the third-highest divorce rate in the Middle east, after Jordan and Kuwait. Further data published by the National Organization for Civil Registration from 2016 to 2017 claimed that 40 percent of all marriages in Tehran province now end within the first 5 years.
Men and women are also marrying later on in life. The average ages of men and women getting married in the province is 30 and 26 respectively while the age range is 23.7 years for women and 27.5 for men nationwide. The department figures also suggest that 38 percent of all divorces in Iran take place in couples between the ages of 25 to 29 and that only 11 percent reach their 20th wedding anniversary.
In 2013, Iran’s Interior Ministry was tasked with preparing a report which identified the country’s social problems, including divorce, and to find ways to resolve them. The government’s matchmaking website is one effort at boosting marriage rates and stemming divorce, though the moderate success of the site’s services may have led to the government looking at easier and more traditional alternatives, like child marriage.
As the country faces an ongoing economic crisis, child marriage is sometimes seen by parents in Iran, particularly those in rural areas where resources are scarce, as a way to secure their children’s basic needs such as food and shelter. The ages of children involved in such marriages also makes it much easier to enforce the policy, side-stepping the need to engage in discussion and compromise as would potentially be the case with young adults.
Although Iran’s government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1994, they did so with the addition of a reservation which allowed officials to ignore any clauses within the CRC that ran counter to Iran’s domestic laws. This has allowed Iran to continue its policy of child marriage, despite the CRC opposing the exploitation of children.