The Iranian government’s top official for family affairs has blasted state inaction on the legal practice of girls as young as nine being married off.

“Our policy is to encourage the youths to marry at a suitable age,” Masoumeh Ebtekar, the Vice President for Women and Family Affairs told state-run IRNA. “Our proposal and emphasis is to ban marriage under 13 years of age… We believe that if the circumstances are right for the girl to get married, this could happen at the age of 13 or over.”

“The view and the emphasis of the government is for marriage between the ages of 13 and 15 to be conducted under the supervision of the family and a judge,” Ebtekar said. “However, marriage under the age of 13 should be completely stopped. “

According to Article 1041 of Iran’s civil code, “marriage before the age of majority is prohibited” – with “age of majority”, or the threshold of adulthood, defined as nine years of age for girls and 15 years of age for boys. Prior to the Islamic revolution of 1979, the legal age for marriage stood at 18 for girls and 20 for boys.

Opponents of child marriage have tried to find a middle ground with the religious establishment of the country to raise the age of marriage to at least 13 years of age for girls and 16 for boys, but discussion of the proposal has been fraught with contention, and a bill prepared two years ago has still not reached parliament’s floor to be voted on.

Over 7,000 girls between the ages of 10 to 14 were married in the three months of spring 2020, according to data from the state-run Statistical Center of Iran. One girl under the age of 10 was married off. Girls under the age of 15 gave birth to 346 children over the same time period.

Ebtekar’s remarks come as a top health ministry expert described the issue of child marriage as “nonsense” on Iranian television, before calling on the government to encourage women to become pregnant before they turn 20.

“A woman could become pregnant from the time her ovaries are active until a time that it is not active … that does not mean that in every woman it is from the age of 10 to the age to 54… some become active at age 12 and others at 13,” Dr Mohammad Esmail Akbari told Iranian TV on Friday. “This is how God created them – the moment those signs emerge, she becomes a woman.”

“… [I]f, I a biologist, were to suggest pregnancy, I would have to say that one should try to become pregnant under the age of 20,” Akbari said.

Akbari’s recommendations are in line with a government push for Iranians to counterbalance the ageing of the country’s population by having more children. The government has introduced financial incentives of up to 100 million tomans [$3,846, at rate of $1 to 26,000 tomans] to encourage young men and women to marry and have children young.

Some families are abusing that system, turning young girls into cash cows by marrying them off early, according to Ebtekhar.

“Unfortunately, sometimes the marriage loan is used for child marriages… generally speaking these families have financial problems, so their child’s marriage becomes a good to be traded,” he said.

Iran introduced family planning policies during the mid-20th century reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, but the decline in population was reversed with the arrival of the Islamic revolutionaries in 1979; by the end of the 1980s, population growth stood at around 4 percent.

As the population boomed, Iran re-introduced family planning policies in 1989, contributing a 61 percent reduction in the country’s birth rate. The remaining 39 percent of the reduction was the result of an increased average age of marriage among Iranian women, due mainly to their pursuit of higher education and changes in sociocultural norms.

The total fertility rate (TFR) in Iran dwindled from 6.927 in 1960 to 1.8 in the year ending March 2020. Iran appears to have overshot the target rate, its TFR dropping below the replacement fertility rate.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sounded the alarm on population decline in 2013, placing some of the blame on himself.

“One of the mistakes we made – and I share the blame – was this issue of population control, which should have been stopped in the 1990s,” Khamenei said during a trip to northeast of the country. “The families, the youths must increase reproduction… limiting the children in families in the way it is practiced today is a mistake.”

Iran has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1994, which considers any person under the age of 18 to be a child. Despite this, boys and girls under the age of 18 continue to be married off.

“I would like to us those who agree with child marriage to see if they are ready to wed their little daughters to the older men?” Ebtekar said.

Source » rudaw