It should come as no surprise that a parliamentary motion banning child marriage proposed in December in Iran was killed in its infancy. Many of the clerics who dominate the ruling establishment have themselves taken child brides, and despite the public outcry on social media in favor of the ban, there is no will among the authorities to end this practice.
The history of marrying underage girls in the Islamic Republic goes back to its founder, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who at the age of 27 married 15-year-old Khadijeh Saqafi. Khomeini's daughter-in-law, Fatemeh Tabatabei, was also just fifteen years old when married to the Ayatollah's younger son, Ahmad. Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, married his wife, Mansoureh Khojasteh, when she was under seventeen years old.
Iranian clerics have traditionally promoted marriage at a young age for both boys and girls.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran’s 68-year-old “International Deputy Chief Justice,” says he was married so young, he cannot even remember at what age. His brother, Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani, the head of the Islamic Republic’s judiciary, similarly says "I cannot remember how old I was when I married; probably I was 16-17 years old.”
Their brother, Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iranian Parliament, married the daughter of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a prominent supporter of Islamic government, when he was twenty and she was fifteen.
When Sahebeh Arabi married her maternal cousin Hassan Fereidoun (currently Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president), she was only fifteen years old.
The record breaker for underage marriage is the Islamic Republic’s first Minister of Intelligence, mid-ranking cleric Mohammad Reyshahri, who proposed marriage to Ayatollah Ali Meshkini's daughter while she was only nine. The minister waited two hears before taking the 11-year-old bride home.
Although the Quran does not mention a specific age for marriage, either for the husband or wife, Shi'ite jurists, including Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, have maintained that the appropriate age for marriage is puberty.
Insisting that Prophet Muhammad is the perfect example for all Muslims, Shi'ite jurists argue that he married a six-year-old bride, Aisha, with whom he consummated the marriage when she was only nine years old and had allegedly reached puberty.
A prominent member of the Islamic Republic's Cultural and Social Council for Women recently defended child marriage, arguing it protects girls from “a life of prostitution and illegal abortions.” Fereshteh Rouhafza told state-run ILNA December 4 that in light of the rapidly growing number of increasingly young girls undergoing illegal abortions and joining the sex trade, “opposition to child marriage is wrong.”
Defenders of human rights have repeatedly dismissed such claims, rejecting child marriage as child abuse.
According to Iran’s Association of Children’s Rights, the number of girls married in Iran under the age of 15 climbed from 33,383 in 2006 to 43,459 in 2009, a 30 percent increase in three years. Experts say the increase is due to deepening poverty and parents’ abiding desire to control their daughters’ sexuality.
The Islamic Republic’s civil code stipulates that the legal age of marriage in Iran is thirteen for girls and fifteen for boys. However, the civil code allows girls as young as nine to marry with the consent of their father or the permission of a judge.