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Sharia Restrictions On Adoptions In Iran Lead To Buying And Selling Babies

Man arrested by Iranian police for advertising babies for sale on Instagram. June 24, 2020.
Man arrested by Iranian police for advertising babies for sale on Instagram. June 24, 2020.

Iranian media on Wednesday reported that police in Tehran have arrested three people for selling babies online for adoption.

Hossein Rahimi, Chief of Tehran Police, on Wednesday said the Cyberspace Police found out about the scheme and after surveillance arrested three for the crime. At the time of their arrest, the accused had two new-born babies with them. According to Rahimi the babies were sold for around $1,000.

According to the website of the state-run television (IRIB), one of the men arrested said he took the babies from families who couldn't afford raising the children. He sold them to families who wanted to adopt, he said.

Sale of babies for illegal adoption is not too uncommon in Iran. There are always many babies who are abandoned at birth as a result of poverty or because they are born out of wedlock. Abortion is illegal and since a few years ago the state has scraped all family planning programs due to the religious establishment's fear of declining population.

But what creates the demand for babies through illegal channels is the small number of children available for legal adoption and the complexity of the process. Islamic laws make the process of legal adoption and even in-vitro fertilization (IVF) extremely complicated and sometimes even impossible. Adopting parents must meet certain requirements dictated by Islamic laws in addition to the regular legal, financial and other requirements for adoption. These requirements are enforced by the state.

Instagram pages advertising babies for adoption in exchange for money.

Many who wish to adopt make the choice of circumventing the state and its religious laws by finding babies through illegal channels and paying bribes to get identity documents for the child as their own rather than going through the ordeal of the official adoption process.

Childless Iranian families and individuals who want to adopt often have to wait for years although there are thousands of children in state care. An official of the State Welfare Organization in August 2019 said the number of applicants for adoption was more than ten times the number of children that could be adopted.

The Islamic concept of mahramiyat -- being related by blood (or marriage) -- dictates much of the interpersonal relations between individuals including the rules related to the observance of the dress code for women (hijab).

Oftentimes mahramiyat is only the concern of the Islamic state, not those who want to adopt. The complications arising from the state enforcement of the concept of mahramiyat practically rule out the adoption of children who are not infants anymore.

According to sharia, all the rules that apply to strangers in interpersonal relations apply to an adopted child because the child is not related to the adopting parents by blood, or is not "mahram". This means that concealment of the body and hair is obligatory for the mother of an adopted boy as soon as he reaches the age of fifteen. The same applies to sisters if the family already have a daughter. An adopted girl, according to the same principle, must cover herself from her adoptive father, and brothers if any, when she reaches the age of nine.

Sources of emulation, that is Shiite religious authorities, have gone to extremes to resolve the issue of mahrimayat between adopted children and their parents and relatives. One solution is for the adopting mother to breastfeed the baby before the age of two. A boy breast-fed by the adopting mother or maternal grandmother will become mahram (intimate) to the mother and her daughters while a girl breast-fed in the same way will become mahram to the woman's husband. Another solution for making a girl mahram to her adoptive father is for her to be breast-fed by the father's sister or niece.

Another solution, in the view of some religious authorities, is to marry a baby or young girl to the adoptive paternal grandfather as a formality to make her the father's stepmother who is considered mahram to him. In the same way, a baby or young boy should be married as a formality to the adoptive maternal grandmother. If the child is a girl, and since men can take more than one wife according to the laws of Sharia, the problem is not difficult to solve but what if the adopting mother's mother is married or can't breastfeed? No adoption of a boy is possible in such cases, the Sharia says.

The regulations for adoption were amended in 2013 to allow unmarried women of over thirty and families who already have children to adopt. Until then only children who had no parents or paternal or maternal grandfathers could be adopted but the changed law now allows the children of parents who have abandoned them or are unable to raise their child to be adopted.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.