As the amount of loans for marriage has doubled in Iran, the number of applicants planning to marry under-fifteen-year-old partners shows a ninety-fold increase, reports say.
Speaking to the state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) on December 29, a member of parliament Tayebeh Siavoshi, said, "Since the amount of marriage loan has reached 600 million rials (roughly $5,000 based on free market rate), the number of applicants planning to marry under-fifteen-year-old partners, compared with two years ago, shows an almost ninety-fold growth in the past five months."
Meanwhile, the number of underage marriages has also significantly increased, Ms. Siavoshi said.
Based on the Central Bank of Iran's (CBI) statistics, 31 banks and credit institutions currently offer marriage loans.Each person can borrow $2,500 and the couple together are eligible to take a $5,000 loan. But approval is not an easy task, needing two cosigners with proven monthly incomes.
If a loan is approved, the couple is committed to paying it back in monthly installments in five years with 4% interest. The loan amount is double for war veterans and their children.
Referring to data provided by the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, Ms. Siavoshi noted that, when the marriage loan increased to 300 million rials (roughly $2,500) per partner in 2018, the number of the applicants for underage marriage showed a nearly seventy-fold increase compared with the previous year.
In some remote and mainly poverty-stricken areas of Iran, the significant amount of marriage loan has encouraged the impoverished parents to give away their under-fifteen-year-old daughters to elderly suitors, and pocket a share of the $5,000 marriage loan, ILNA reports.
Earlier last year, a parliamentary motion to ban underage marriage was rejected at Majles (parliament) Judicial Commission under the pressure of ultraconservative clerics.
The extremist elderly ayatollahs, officially called Shi'ite sources of emulation, have repeatedly insisted that when a girl reaches puberty, regardless of age, she may marry with her father's consent.
Prophet Muhammad is the perfect example for all Muslims, the ultraconservative Grand Ayatollahs and their followers argue. The prophet is said to have married at least one underage girl.
"Prophet Muhammad married the six-year-old, Aisha, with whom he consummated the marriage when she reached nine," they note.
In the meantime, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly urged Iranians to have more babies amid economic and social crisis.
Calling on government officials to render support to families to increase the population of the country, Khamenei reiterated that increasing the number of children should become "a cultural norm" in Iranian society.
Iran is currently experiencing a deep recession, with a 9 percent GDP contraction, more than 40 percent inflation and millions of unemployed young people.
"As the economic situation in Iran deteriorated in the past two years, raising the amount of marriage loan has alarmingly promoted underage marriages," Ms. Siavoshi told ILNA.
In a report published last May, parliament’s research center announced that nearly 23 to forty percent of Iran's 82 million population live under the poverty line.
In the meantime, according to local authorities, in 2018, 1400 underage girls married in the province of Zanjan alone, and another 1054 in the Northern Khorasan province.
Judicial officials in the province of Hamadan have also disclosed that 1,596 cases of underage marriages have been officially registered in the area, out of which sixty cases were ended in divorce.
Referring to the alarming increase in underage marriages in some areas in Iran, the Sport and Youth Affairs Deputy Minister, Mohammad Mehdi Tondgouyan, has warned, "Raising the ceiling of marriage loan will not help raising the number of marriage in the country, but it might bring in more difficulties and social harms."
Iran's Civil Code stipulates that the legal age of marriage in Iran is 13 for girls and 15 for boys. However, the law allows girls as young as 9 to marry with their father's consent or the permission of a sitting judge.
Although full data is not available on child marriage in Iran, UNICEF estimates that approximately 17 percent of girls are married before the age of 18. However, the numbers may be even higher as many families do not register births or underage marriages.