Justice for Iran – 14 January 2015:The number of Iranian girls who got married between the ages of 10 and 14 reached its highest level in the year 1392 (2013-2014) after the country saw a continuous growth in under-age marriages during the previous five years. The number of girls who became mothers while younger than 15 also rose. At the same time, the last official statistics published in Iran reveal that 10 per cent of the babies born to mothers between 10 and 12 years of age die.
The official figures show that 1,727 girls under the age of 15 gave birth in the year 1392 (2013-2014). On average, more than 8 per cent of women who gave birth during the last five years (1388-1392, or 2009-2010 and 2013-2014) were between 15 and 19 years of age.
The increase in the number of married girls and women who are becoming mothers in childhood comes up as the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, debates a bill designed to curb the access of women to contraceptives and sexual health education with the aim of encouraging population growth. These limitations, the majority of which had been implemented before any decision by the Majlis, expose even more girls to early pregnancies and put their health and the health of their children in danger. The last official census in Iran shows that the mortality rate of babies born to mothers younger than 15 is higher than for all other age groups in Iran.
While the official statistics provided limited information on the details concerning childbearing by girls under the age of 15, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported the birth of four babies to mothers aged just 10 in the year 1391 (2012-2013). There were 17 births to 11-year-old mothers, 50 births to mothers aged 12 and 275 births to 13-year-old mothers. Mothers aged 14 gave 1,289 births in the same year. According to this report, based on information obtained from the Iranian National Organization for Civil Registration, 14,377 new mothers gave birth aged 15. There were 15,637 girls who became mothers aged 16 and 19,771 births were registered for 17-year-old mothers. Additionally, there were 31,494 births to 18-year-olds and 43,925 births to 19-year-olds.
1,289 mothers gave birth aged 14 in the year 1391 (2012-2013). There were another 275 births to 13-year-old mothers, 50 to girls aged 12 and 17 births to 11-year-old mothers. Four girls gave birth at the age of 10.
The statistics of the Iranian National Organization for Civil Registration show that in the year 1392 (2013-2014), the number of girls who got married aged under 10 or between the age of 10 and 15 has risen in comparison to the previous year. 201 girls got married aged less than 10 and the number of brides aged 10 to 14 rose to more than 41,000. This accounts for 5.44 per cent of all marriages in Iran. In addition, close to 235,000 marriages of girls aged between 15 and 19 were registered in the same period.
The highest number of brides aged 10 to 14 was registered in the province of Khorassan-e Razavi, with 7,635 marriages, and in East Azerbaijan province with 4,485 marriages. The province of Khorassan followed with 2,165 marriages, Fars came next with 2,062 marriages, Tehran with 2,051 marriages and Hamedan with 1,966 marriages.
In terms of under-age mothers, the province of Sistan and Baluchistan has the worst record with 462 births registered to girls younger than 15. The provinces of Khorassan-e Razavi and Khuzestan follow with 157 births by mothers in the same age group. East and West Azerbaijan come next with 99 and 90 births to girls under 15.
Girls are not the only victims of early marriage in Iran. Boys are affected as well. However, the statistics on boy marriages show significant differences to the situation of girls. Last year (1392, or 2013-2014) 313 boys under the age of 15 were married, together with 36,155 of boys aged 15 to 19.
All statistics presented in this report are based on the numbers officially announced on the website of the Iranian National Organization for Civil Registration. But the number of non-registered marriages is likely to be much higher.
This situation exists in Iran despite the ban on early marriages endorsed by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2014 requiring all member states to approve and enforce laws preventing child marriages and punishing the offenders. Early marriages justified by culture or custom have been marked as unacceptable by the UN and the organisation requires serious steps from all member states towards completely stopping these marriages.
Silence of the State in Face of Rising Early Marriages
Shahindokht Molaverdi, the Vice-President of Iran for Women and Family Issues, announced that she had raised this issue in the cabinet. This came after Justice for Iran published its second report in the month of Tir 1393 (June-July 2014) highlighting the alarming situation in early marriages, which was widely reported in the media thereafter.
In the month of Mordad 1393 (July-August 2014) Molaverdi also emphasised the necessity of reforming the law on marriage age for girls and said the Justice Ministry has already provided some comments which are to be published soon.
However, nine months have passed with no announcement on this issue. No programme on reforming the law and stopping child marriages has been published. The government officials responsible have not provided any explanation.
Concern over the increase in the number of mothers under 18 in case of implementation of new population growth policies
The analytical report of Justice for Iran, published under the title “Women’s Reproductive and Domestic Labour at the Service of Nation-Building,“ has warned that there are two bills currently in the Majlis whose generalities have been approved. “The Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline“ and “The Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill“ contain laws which would potentially directly violate the right of women to gain access to information on temporary and permanent methods of contraception, family planning services, legal and safe abortion and follow-up care.
The evidence collected in this report suggests that the enforcement of some of these key policies has already begun in Iran. The side effects of these strict rules place women from the poorest households at greatest risk, including many young brides, who will be denied access to free contraception pills and general education.
“The Bill to Increase Fertility Rates and Prevent Population Decline“ specifically bans any “activities“ which seem to encourage family planning and help women to avoid pregnancy. Based on this article, any activity including education and consultancy in the sphere of family planning and promotion of contraceptive devices can be regarded as a crime.
“The Comprehensive Population and Exaltation of Family Bill“, in addition to placing constraints on the employment of women and encouraging childbearing, violates women´s rights and privileges in order to “increase the growth of population“ and increases the hardship in case of abortion. Stopping or limiting family planning programmes will affect hardest those young girls who, when entering early marriages, have little knowledge about contraception and insufficient control over the arrangement of sexual relations related to the spacing of pregnancies. More than other women, they are at risk of unwanted pregnancies and repeated childbearing. In addition to bearing the social and psychological consequences of early and repeated births, their physical health will be at risk during the time of giving birth and in the long term as well.
While the bill has not yet been approved by the Majlis, the funding for the Family and Population Planning Programme has already been eliminated from the 1391 budget (March 2012-2013). On 11 June 2014, the Health Ministry confirmed that this funding will now be allocated in the budget under the title “Reproductive Health“ and the “Increase in Fertility Rates“. The access to fertility control methods will become available only to women for whom pregnancy poses a risk.
Stopping or limiting family planning programmes will affect hardest young girls who, when entering early marriages, have little knowledge about contraception and lack control over the arrangement of sexual relations in order to space pregnancies. More than other women, they are at risk of unwanted pregnancies and repeated childbearing.
In interviews with Justice for Iran, various sources have confirmed that free family planning services, which included free distribution of condoms and contraception pills, were stopped and the majority of health centres and pharmacies refrain from presenting condoms as the easiest and safest method of contraception.
In addition to cuts in family planning and limiting the possibilities of legal contraception, the basic training that couples used to obtain before marriage has also been cancelled, in line with the new population policy. Ali Sangi, the director of Family Health, Population and Education at the Ministry of Health announced in the month of Aban 1392 (October-November 2013) that his ministry no longer provides advice concerning contraception to young couples at the start of their married life.
International Efforts to Stop Early and Forced Marriages in Iran
On the eve of the second session of the Universal Periodic Review on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, which took place on 31 October 2014 at the headquarters of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Justice for Iran asked other countries to present recommendations aimed at stopping early marriages in Iran.
These recommendations included an unconditional approval of the “Convention on Consent for Marriage, the Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriage“ and taking effective legislative steps for the accountability of judges and all individuals directly responsible for issuing permissions for early marriages, as well as drafting a new law aimed at banning forced marriages.
Despite eight countries – Germany, Italy, Israel, Sierra Leone, Poland, South Korea and Montenegro – providing recommendations for the Islamic Republic of Iran during this session to reform the law on forced and early marriage, the Islamic Republic failed to accept any of these recommendations.
The Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights in Iran is an important mechanism of the United Nations within which each country is obliged to present a report to the international community on its situation of human rights. All other countries then participate in a session held at the headquarters of the UN Human Rights Council and provide their recommendations to the country under review.
In the end, the reviewed country announces which of these recommendations it accepts and which it rejects. Accepting a recommendation means the country is obliged to enforce the recommendations within the next four years.
Justice for Iran has briefed more than 70 permanent missions at the UN in Geneva prior to the October session in order to present facts and recommendations regarding a number of issues pertaining to women’s rights in Iran. JFI also submitted a shadow report with some recommendations on girl marriages, forced hijab, and the situation of homosexual and transgender citizens in Iran to the UN Human Rights Council, as well as recommendations regarding the new policies pertaining to family planning to various member states.
Iran is a member of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Charter on Civil and Political Rights. Both of these forbid early marriage as well as marriages without real consent. The UN rapporteur on slavery described forced marriage as a form of modern slavery. However, Article 1041 of the Iranian Civil Code determines the age of marriage for girls as 13 years or even lower on condition that the father or the paternal grandfather win the approval of a judge.