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Iran Finally Adopts A Child-Protection Law, Held Back By Conservatives For Nine Years

Mothers and their children in a women penitentiary near Tehran, undated.
Mothers and their children in a women penitentiary near Tehran, undated.

After almost a decade of legal scuffles, the Islamic Republic watchdog, the Guardian Council (GC), has endorsed a bill to support the rights of children and teenagers in Iran.

The GC spokesman, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said on Sunday, June 7, the council has finally ruled that "the bill to protect children and adolescents is not inconsistent with Sharia and the Constitution."

Based on the bill, now passed into law, a child is a person who has not reached the "Sharia age of puberty", and adolescents are defined as "persons under the age of eighteen" who have reached the "Sharia age of puberty."

Under the Civil Code of 2007, marriage “before the age of majority” is prohibited. However, the age of majority in the Twelver-Shi'ite clergy-dominated Iran is nine lunar years (eight years and nine months) for girls and fifteen lunar years for boys.

The bill endorsed on Sunday was presented to Majles (Iran's parliament) nine years ago by the hardliner president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, it took seven years for Majlis to pass it.

Nonetheless, the powerful watchdog, GC, raised dozens of objections, blocking the bill from becoming law.

The recent murder of a thirteen-year-old girl, Romina Ashrafi, by his father that shocked Iranian society once again reignited the heated debate over the bill and children's rights.

President Hassan Rouhani's deputy for women and family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, said on May 29 that the bill "could definitely help judges in cases like Romina's murder."

Ebtekar maintained that the bill had "remained stagnant for years and was brought up at the request of the Rouhani administration."

Based on the latest reports, the outgoing Majlis resolved the objections raised by the GC in mid-May during the last weeks of its term.

However, it is not yet known how different the amended bill is with its original version.

Local news outlets report, "for the first time in the Islamic Republic's legal system," crimes such as preventing children from being educated, encouraging them to drop out of school, and harassing them emotionally, as well as negligence in child custody are defined and punishments set for them in detail.

The new law also stipulates that issues such as "communicating with children and adolescents on the Internet and social networks aimed at harassing them", "selling tobacco to children" and employing children, and "exploiting" them are considered as punishable crimes.

Iran ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994, which sets a minimum age of marriage of eighteen, but made reservations to articles and provisions which may be contrary to the "Islamic Sharia law".

As the full text of the new law is not available so far, the children and teenagers' rights experts have not yet reacted to it.