By Amy Harmon and Alan Blinder
State lawmakers across the country are moving to raise the minimum age to marry, out of growing concern that lax marriage laws may be contributing to sex trafficking and to children being forced to marry against their will.
Delaware became the first state to ban marriage for anyone under age 18 when the governor signed the measure last week. In the other 49 states, current law allows minors to marry, generally with parental consent or judicial approval. At least 20 states have no minimum age set by statute.
But over the past two years, seven states have raised their minimum marriage age to 16 or 17, and at least seven more are considering legislation to tighten their rules.
By ISMIRA LUTFIA TISNADIBRATA
Women’s rights activists in Indonesia are pushing President Joko Widodo to issue a presidential regulation that will make child marriage illegal in the country, where its prevalence is one of the highest in world.
They recently submitted their proposed draft of a presidential regulation to Widodo, in lieu of a law to prevent and abolish early marriage on Friday, Apr. 20.
Presidential spokesman Johan Budi, confirmed to Arab News that the meeting took place in Bogor Palace.
Naila Rizqi Zakiah, a public attorney from Community Legal Aid Institute and one of the 18 activists invited to meet with him, said they raised three issues: Child marriage, the bill to amend the criminal code, and the bill against sexual violence.
“The first issue the president responded to was child marriage,” Zakiah told Arab News. “We asked him to issue a presidential regulation in lieu of a law to prevent and stop child marriage. We’ve come up with a draft, and we submitted it to him for his perusal.”
She said Widodo responded “positively” to the proposal after they explained to him that child marriage could deny children their basic human rights and hinder national development.
“We submitted this draft because we think rampant child marriage in the country is an emergency situation, while the procedure in Parliament to amend the articles on the minimum age to marry in the marriage law could be lengthy,” Zakiah said.
The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has urged Parliament to prioritize amending the 1974 marriage law to raise the minimum age for females to marry to 20 and for males to 22.
The law requires parental permission for those under 21 who want to marry. The minimum legal age for women to marry is 16, and 19 for men.
Parents can request a legal exemption from a religious court to marry children younger than that, with no limit on the minimum age.
Women’s and child rights activists have been advocating to raise the minimum legal age for females to marry to 18, in line with the child protection law that categorizes those under 18 as minors.
“It’s still not the ideal age to get married, but would be the minimum (acceptable),” Maria Ulfa Anshor, a commissioner for the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, told Arab News.
“We’ve been waiting for so long for this move, especially since the risks and dangers of child marriage, such as the high maternal mortality rate, are so real,” she added. “I hope there will be no more child marriage, because the courts give exemptions to do so.”
The Constitutional Court in June 2015 rejected a request to review the marriage law and raise the legal age for girls to marry from 16 to 18.
According to UNICEF, child marriage in Indonesia is rampant, with more than one in six girls, or 340,000, getting married every year before they reach adulthood.
Child marriage is most prevalent among girls who are 16 and 17, but there has been a decline among under-15s.
The debate about banning child marriage resurfaced following media reports of a 14-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend in South Sulawesi province who sought an exemption from a religious court to get married, which they obtained. They reportedly got married on Monday.
Published on Arab News on April 24, 2018
By Stephanie Cajigal
A new report by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health researchers found that approximately 78,400 children in the U.S. are or have been married.
Although all states in the U.S. set 18 as the legal age minimum for marriage, exceptions to the minimum can be granted in every state under varying conditions, including parental consent and official approval.
“The United States invests public resources to prevent child marriage abroad while continuing to permit it domestically,” said the study’s lead author, Alissa Koski, a postdoctoral scholar at the Fielding School. “This inconsistency between foreign policy and domestic laws has generated surprisingly little attention.”
Researchers analyzed data collected between 2010 and 2014 from the American Community Survey, which asks about the marital status of teens ages 15 to 17.
They report that an average of 6.8 of every 1,000 girls and 5.7 of every 1,000 boys had been or were married at the time they were surveyed. Prevalence differed by state: More than 10 per 1,000 children were married in West Virginia, Hawaii and North Dakota, and fewer than four per 1,000 children were married in Maine, Rhode Island and Wyoming. The study also found that child marriages were highly unstable: Nearly a quarter of children were already separated or divorced before the age of 18.
At least 14 states have or are currently considering changes to their minimum-age-at-marriage laws that would further restrict the marriage of minors, but some of the proposed legislation has been met with strong opposition.
The study was published online by Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and will appear in the journal’s June issue.
Published on UCLA News on April 17, 2018
By Helene Christensen
“We are equal to boys and can also contribute to society,” said 17-year-old Lidia Suale Saide. Lidia knows what it means to stand up for these beliefs. One year ago, she refused her mother’s attempt to marry her off. She said she wanted to become a doctor instead.
“I want to become independent and free of the harms and expectations placed on girls in my community,” she told UNFPA recently.
But many girls in Mozambique are not able to avoid marriage. Child marriage is widespread in the country, with 48 per cent of women aged 20-24 reporting they were married before reaching age 18.
Child marriage often pushes girls from school, and it leaves them vulnerable to abuse and early pregnancies, which can cause lasting harm or even death.
Child marriage and teen pregnancies are closely linked: In Mozambique, some 46 per cent of girls aged 15-19 are either pregnant or already mothers, according to 2015 data.
But Lidia is helping to change these trends.
She is now a mentor in Raparinga Biz, a UNFPA-supported programme that has mobilized tens of thousands of adolescent girls to learn about their sexual and reproductive health and human rights, as well as about citizenship and life skills.
This knowledge is helping girls advocate for themselves and each other: Within the programme’s first year, only 1 per cent of the 23,500 adolescent girls involved were married before turning 18.
Tackling gender inequality, violence
Raparinga Biz, which translates to “Busy Girl,” was launched in May 2016. It has so far reached 94,000 girls and young women. Over 2,300 girls have been trained as mentors.
The programme directly takes on one of the root causes of child marriage and teen pregnancy: gender inequality. Girls discuss the importance of equality, empowerment and human rights.
“Our society is portraying girls and women as inferior, and it is influencing our confidence and value,” said 16-year-old Assma Cassam Ismali, one of the programme’s young mentors. “As a mentor I want to support girls to value themselves.”
Too often, gender inequality takes the form of violence against women and girls. Even school can be an unsafe environment. Seven in 10 girls in Mozambique know of cases of sexual harassment and abuse in their schools, a 2013 UN report indicated.
“My teacher has been harassing me for a year,” Maria* told UNFPA. “One time he forced a sexual relation with me in a classroom. I feel ashamed and blame myself. He is HIV positive, and I fear what more can happen.”
Maria is another of the new mentors trained under Rapariga Biz. She spoke about her experience during a mentors’ training session on human rights.
She wants to help other girls stand up for themselves and their rights, and to help girls seek justice if abuses do occur.
Former child bride advocates change
The resilience of mentors like Maria and Lidia is one of the programme’s strengths. Mentors are able to draw from their own experiences, as well as their training, when educating and advising other girls.
Lucia*, from Angoche District in Nampula Province, was pressured by her family to become the wife of a man who was already married. As an orphan, Lucia had little support in opposing the marriage. She ultimately married him against her wishes.
She was miserable, and after much negotiation with her extended family, she managed to leave the marriage.
Today, she focuses on her studies and advocates for change as a Raparinga Biz mentor.
“I want to inspire girls to marry out of love and choice,” she said. “We cannot be obliged to marry against our will. I hope my story can inspire adolescent girls in my community to choose who to marry at the right time.”
Raparinga Biz is led by the Government of Mozambique, with technical support from UNFPA, UNICEF, UNESCO and UN WOMEN. The programme receives funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, along with a contribution from the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.
It aims to reach 1 million girls and young women by 2020.
Published on UNFPA on February 15, 2018
By Karen McVeigh
A new law that could legalise marriage for children as young as nine in Iraq would be “catastrophic”, setting back women’s rights by half a century, activists said.
The proposal, an amendment to Iraq’s personal status law, would allow clerics of Muslim sects to govern marriage contracts.
Public demonstrations were held last weekend by civil society and women’s rights groups against the amendment. The United Nations in Iraq (Unami) called for wider consultations and for women’s rights to be fully recognised and protected.
An earlier, more extreme version of the bill, provoked an international outcry when it was proposed, ahead of the elections in 2014. The earlier version also restricted women’s rights in terms of divorce, parenting and inheritance.
Opposition to the current proposals, which were approved this month, has so far concentrated on their impact on child marriage.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, of Equality Now, based in Jordan, told the Guardian: “This bill contradicts international conventions and the national law in Iraq. If it is approved, in effect, each and every religious sect will follow their clerics. It will be catastrophic for women’s rights.
“We are outraged, and we will be supporting women in Iraq by issuing alerts about the bill. We are also writing letters to the speaker of [parliament] and the president.”
Some religious sects in Iraq believe the wife of the prophet Muhammad was aged nine, and say children of that age can marry, while others believe children can do so when they reach puberty.
Abu-Dayyeh said: “We are fearful we will lose the good laws we have.”
A petition signed by activists from civil society organisations, gathered in Sulaymaniyah last Sunday, said: “This new bill to amend the personal status law will authorise religious men to enforce illegal marriages and force girls under 18 to live with their in-laws. This is a setback to the achievements Iraqi women made and struggled for half a century ago.”
Humans Rights Watch said it was examining the amendment and would be issuing a statement about how far-reaching the law could be.
Belkis Wille, Iraq and Qatar researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “It fundamentally undermines international law and also Iraqi law. Some religious sects do not allow equal rights – in terms of marriage and in terms of inheritance. If you read the amendment it says very little. What it does say is religious leaders from individual sects and religious tenets will govern marriage contracts.
“One would think in the aftermath of Isis, one of the key priorities of the government would be to assert more clearly that everyone in Iraq has equal rights.
“We will be issuing a statement about this proposed amendment, trying to hammer down how it will erode the current rights. We will also be talking to MPs to bring pressure on them to make sure it will not pass.”
On 1 November, Iraq’s council of representatives voted in principle to approve the new amendment, and it has been signed by 40 parliamentarians. Iraqi elections will be held in May next year. The amendment states: “It is permitted to conduct a marriage contract for the followers of the Sunni and Shia sects, according to their faith, by those who are permitted to conduct such contracts as directed by the jurists of that faith.”
The legal age for marriage in Iraq is 18, but under the current personal status law, a judge is allowed to permit girls as young as 15 to marry in “urgent” cases. This already violates child protections under the UN convention on the rights of the child, which Iraq ratified in 1994. The draft amendment would go much further, putting many more girls at risk of forced and early marriage, and making them vulnerable to sexual abuse. The treaty defines a child as being under 18.
The draft is not yet on the agenda in parliament and the timing of the vote is unclear.
The version of the bill proposed in 2014 included provisions that would have banned Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, legalised rape within marriage, and prevented women from leaving the house without their husband’s permission.
Published on The Guardian on November 14, 2017
By Corinne Redfern
"We’ve never had this many female pupils before,” says principal Lal Chandra Pandey as the class opens their textbooks. “I’d say we were used to 90% of the girls in the region coming to school for a few years, and then typically having to leave at around 14 or 15 and get married. It was only last year that we noticed they were staying on for longer and longer. We had to borrow more chairs from the primary class next door.”
It’s been more than a decade since Pandey started teaching at Shree Nepal Rastriya higher secondary – a school positioned precariously on the edge of a lake in Nepal’s southern district of Kapilvastu – and he’s never seen anything like it. “But of course, by this point, we know who’s responsible.”
As if on cue, 17-year-old Sheskalo Pandey lifts her gaze from her notebook and raises her hand to ask a question. She’s been awake since 4am, when she began weaving paper baskets in the dark – but she won’t let her concentration slip. “School is my whole life,” she tells me later. “I’m working so hard to be here. It wouldn’t make sense if I didn’t work even harder when I get to my desk.”
The girls choose to sit together, she says. “We’re not going to distract each other. I won’t let that happen. I’ve invested too much in this.”
Three years ago, just after Sheskalo’s 14th birthday, her parents decided it was time she got married. “Two of the girls I walked to school with had dropped out of our class to get married, and my family decided I should probably leave too,” she recalls. “They said that it was expensive – and that walking in on my own was too dangerous in case I was raped. I think they thought I’d be happy because I could plan a wedding instead.”
To her parents’ dismay, the teenager reacted by bursting into tears and refusing to eat for four days. “Even when my mother brought me a bowl of homemade curd – which we never have because it’s so expensive – I left it on the ground. I felt sick, like my whole future was being taken away from me.”
Then Sheskalo remembered a group of elderly women she’d seen making handicrafts and selling them at wedding fairs. This could be one answer, she thought, and came up with a business plan to sell handcrafted baskets, bowls, calendars and incense at markets across the district in order to enable her to pay the 300 rupees (£2.20) monthly school fees.
“I begged my brother to lend me enough money to buy some coloured paper and glue,” she says. “He’s older than me, and had been allowed to finish school and go to university, so he agreed. He said he was proud of me for standing up for myself.”
With his support, their parents caved – agreeing that Sheskalo could attempt to pay her own school fees for six months. But if she failed, that was it: marriage was the only solution. Her mother nodded while Sheskalo made her business proposal, but her father remained silent. “I thought it was because he didn’t approve,” she says. “But the next day he came home with a rusty bicycle he’d spent all his savings on. He said that I could pay him back when I started making money. And that at least this way, he knew I’d be safe.”
Her debt was repaid two weeks later, and within two months other girls in the village were asking Sheskalo for help. “I could barely leave the house without somebody stopping me,” she recalls. “Mothers were pleading with me to teach their daughters how to make money so that they could stay in school too, and my friends started telling their parents they didn’t want to get married either.”
Community workers funded by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) caught wind of the girls’ rebellion, and began to coordinate a “girls only circle” where they could talk freely about their fears of forced marriage and ask for professional support to prevent it happening. Accountants were drafted in to teach them about banking and managing their money.
And when the time came to elect a group president, it was an easy choice. “There are 35 of us who have bought our own bicycles now, and we stopped two girls from getting married last month,” Sheskalo says proudly. “Next on my list is gender-based violence. We’re actually making a really big impact in a really short time.”
She now earns up to 8,000 rupees (£56) for a month’s work. Half of her income goes to her father, and she saves the rest. She’s saving to do a degree in accountancy after she finishes her final exams next year. In January, she began an course in computing, cycling an hour and a half to the town of Taulihawa once a week and paying 900 rupees [£6.60] to learn how to use Microsoft Word and Excel.
“I’d never even seen a laptop before,” she says. “My instructor says I have potential, but sometimes he still has to hold my fingers down because they keep slipping off the keys – I’m not really sure how to keep them still.”
“It’s not complicated why girls are made to drop out of school,” she says. “It’s just about money. People don’t have enough food to eat three times a day, so if you have a daughter, you’re going to want to find her a husband as soon as possible because that means you won’t have to feed her any more.”
Societal conventions also demand that the more educated a girl, the higher the dowry her parents are expected to present to their in-laws: a financial demonstration of gratitude for taking their worldly daughter off their hands. “If I left school in year seven, maybe my parents would only have to give my husband’s family a buffalo and some jewellery,” Sheskalo explains. “But if I finish school or go to university, they’ll probably have to buy gold necklaces and motorbikes – and a refrigerator too.”
Despite a legal age limit of 18, 41% of girls in Nepal are married before reaching that age – through secret ceremonies conducted in rural regions, or local police reportedly bribed with local alcohol to stay quiet. In Kapilvastu, an agricultural region, the figure is thought to be almost double that.
“Nepal is seeing slow but steady movements in the right direction, and the government has developed a sound strategy for ending child marriage,” says Lubna Baqi, the UNFPA’s Nepal representative. “However, there is a lot left to be done. Keeping girls in school is key to mitigating child marriage. Empowering girls with knowledge – and the confidence which comes with it – is key.”
Ending child marriage is one of the key targets for the sustainable development goals, and there is slow global progress being made.
With that in mind, as the morning’s classes come to an end at 11am, Sheskalo is one of the first out the door – wheeling her bike towards the gate in a rush. “I love school, but there’s too much to do to hang around,” she says. “I mean, some of us have businesses to run.”
Published on The Guardian on November 9, 2017
By Heather Barr
It’s been a funny week. I’m in Kabul, Afghanistan, launching a new Human Rights Watch report I wrote about the lack of progress in girls’ education in Afghanistan. But in between meetings, in the back of a dusty Corolla, stalled at security checkpoints, I’ve been emailing frantically about Florida.
Afghanistan has a serious problem with child marriage.
So does Florida.
In Afghanistan child marriage is associated with girls dropping out of school, sinking into poverty, being at greater risk of domestic violence, and with serious health risks, including death. Child marriage is associated with similar harms in the United States too.
Child marriage law tougher in Afghanistan than FloridaOne important difference, though, between Florida and Afghanistan, is that Afghanistan has a tougher law on child marriage than Florida does. In Afghanistan girls can marry at 16, or at 15 with permission from their father or a judge. In Florida, a pregnant girl can marry at any age, with the approval of a judge.
Human Rights Watch has done extensive research on child marriage, interviewing hundreds of married children in countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, South Sudan, Tanzania, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Human Rights Watch has also advocated for an end to child marriage in other countries, including Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Of these countries, only Saudi Arabia and Yemen, like Florida in the case of a pregnant child, have laws that set no age below which children cannot marry.
A group of organisations working to end child marriage in the United States will travel to Tallahassee, Florida next week to ask members of the state legislature to pass a pending law that would set the minimum age of marriage in Florida at 18 with no exceptions.
16,000 children married in FloridaFlorida is among the US states with the highest rates of child marriage – between 2011 and 2015, more than 16,000 children under the age of 18 married in Florida. But it is far from alone in permitting child marriage. Marriage below the age of 18 is legal in all 50 states, and Florida is one of 25 states in which under some circumstances children of any age can marry. According to 2000 to 2010 data from 38 states, more than 167,000 children married in those states alone during this period.
Child marriage occurs in every region of the world and globally, one out of every four girls marries before age 18, and 15 million girls under 18 marry each year—one every two seconds. The overwhelming majority of married children are girls, most of whom marry spouses who are older than they are—in some cases much older.
Research demonstrates that child marriage is associated with, and in some cases causes, severe harm, wherever married children live. A 2010 study found that girls or young women in the US who married before age 19 were 50 per cent more likely to drop out of high school than their unmarried counterparts, and only 25 per cent as likely to complete college. Girls who marry as early teens, before age 16, in the US are 31 per cent more likely to end up in poverty later in life.
Impact of child marriageResearchers have found significant associations between child marriage and mental and physical health disorders. Research from other countries shows a correlation between child marriage and domestic violence. Married girls often find it more difficult than married women to escape an abusive or unhappy marriage, and to get services such as shelter and legal assistance.
Child marriage in the US is a crucially important issue because the future of tens of thousands of children in the US is being jeopardised by child marriage. It is also important because this is a key moment in a global effort to end child marriage, and donor countries like the US need to show that they will work to end child marriage not only abroad but at home as well.
Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which went into effect in January 2016, countries around the world, including the US, agreed to a target of ending all child marriage by 2030. Countries including Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Malawi, Nepal, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden have recently revised their laws in an effort to reduce child marriage. Many other countries have developed or are developing national action plans for ending child marriage by 2030.
In the US, New York, Texas, and Virginia recently passed laws cracking down on child marriage. If the Florida law passes, it will be the first US state to ban all marriage before age 18.
Girls in Florida, and around the world, need to be kids, not wives.
Published on HRW on October 20, 2017
By Ignatius Annor
First Lady of Sierra Leonne, Sia Koroma has said a consensus with sub Saharan African countries is been mooted to study child marriage and examine its implications for the girl child.
‘‘We hope to have an important understanding of child marriage, its consequences, or the drivers, the solutions of child marriage. We will look policies, legal framework surrounding child marriage and we intend to build a platform where we’ll be sharing a successes and challenges’‘;Sia Koroma said as the world marked International Day for the Girl.
Child marriage is a severe violation of human rights and one of the worst forms of child abuse, the Sierra Leonean First Lady intimated. She added that West and Central African have a high prevalence.
‘‘Sierra Leone and teenage pregnancy I will regard as some others do as the two evil twins. We have a high prevalence child marriage in Sierra Leone and teenage pregnancy and we’ve looked at it in depth. There is a disproportionate affection’‘,she noted.
Sia Koroma said her country is working to have resources spent on implementing programs aimed at ending the practice.
The Sierra Leonean First Lady intimated that there’re a lot of community mobilisation and social mobilisation in the formal and informal settings, traditional religious leaders have been very important in ending child marriage. Memorandums of understanding have been sent, they are formulated bylaws and edits to end this situation.’‘And besides we are part of the AU (African Union) launch, we have launched our campaign to end child marriage in Sierra Leone’‘.
In 2013, Sierra Leone established a national secretariat and also put in a place a national strategy to end child marriage. The country is hoping to end child marriage in the region so girls can maximize their full potential and contribute towards national development and the sustainable development goals.
Published on AfricaNews on October 15, 2017.
By Rina Chandran
A mobile phone app is the latest tool for campaigners seeking to end child marriage in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, where nearly two-thirds of girls in some of its rural areas are married before the legal age of 18.
The app, Bandhan Tod, was developed by Gender Alliance - a collective of more than 270 charities in Bihar focused on gender rights - and launched this week by Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi. It is backed by the United Nations Population Fund.
India ranks among countries with the highest rates of child marriage in the world, accounting for a third of the global total of more than 700 million women, according to UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency.
Bandhan Tod - meaning “break the binds” - includes classes on child marriage and dowries, and their ill effects. It also has an SOS button that notifies the team when activated.
“The app is a big part of our efforts to end child marriage in the state,” said Prashanti Tiwary, head of Gender Alliance.
“Education is good, but when a young girl wants help because she is being forced to marry before the legal age, the app can be her way out,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Despite a law banning girls from marrying before they turn 18, the practice is deeply rooted in tradition and widely accepted in Indian society. It is rarely reported as a crime and officials are often reluctant to prosecute offenders.
While boys also marry before the legal age of 21, girls are disproportionately affected.
Early marriage makes it more likely that girls will drop out of school, and campaigners say it also increases risks of sexual violence, domestic abuse and death in childbirth.
Legal efforts have failed to break the stranglehold of tradition and culture that continues to support child marriage, charity ActionAid India said in a report this year.
When the SOS on Bandhan Tod is activated, the nearest small NGO will attempt to resolve the issue. If the family resists, then the police will be notified, said Tiwary.
A similar app in West Bengal state to report child marriage and trafficking of women and children has helped prevent several such instances, according to Child in Need Institute, which launched the app in 2015.
Other efforts include a cash incentive, where the state transfers a sum of money to the girl’s bank account if she remains in school and unwed at age 18.
Suppliers of wedding tents in Rajasthan state have stopped dozens of child marriages by alerting officials.
“It will take a change in mindset and behavior to end child marriage,” said Tiwary, who is lobbying the government to raise the marriage age for women to 21, so they have the same opportunities as men.
“But technology provides a practical and accessible way to help prevent it on the ground,” she said.
Published on Reuters on September 19, 2017.
By Shirin Shakib
Leyla was 17 years old when she was married off by her parents in exchange for goats. She can still remember how she had been beaten up by her father before she was taken to the wedding ceremony.
Leyla comes from a village near Esfarayen in the northeast of Iran, and her story is not uncommon for poor young girls from rural and tribal areas in the Islamic Republic. There have also been reports of girls as young as 10 years old being forced into marriage.
Estimates from the United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, in 2016 indicate that 17 percent of girls in Iran were married before the age of 18. And according to statistics from the Iranian National Organization for Civil Registration quoted in 2015 by the Center for Human Rights in Iran, over 40,000 girls under the age of 15 had registered their marriages during the previous one year.
Sharia-based Iranian law states the legal age of marriage is 13 for girls and 15 for boys, but marriages can still be carried out at a younger age with the consent of fathers (or legal guardians) and the permission of a court judge.
Leyla told DW that the age of married girls from her village in North Khorasan province started at 11. "By the age of 16 or 17, most girls are married," she said.
Leyla also added that her brother, who lives in Iran's second-largest city, Mashhad, recently married off his eldest daughter at the age of 12, because he could not makes ends meet for his five children.
The problem of unregistered marriage
Experts say the real number of child marriages in Iran could be much higher, as many of the marriages are not officially registered. This creates a complex problem, where the spouses in unregistered marriages have no civil rights and the children from these marriages have no birth certificates. Children born in unregistered child marriages are therefore deprived of education and social protection, and face a future beset by poverty, juvenile crime and addiction.
Majid Abhari, a sociologist at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, told DW that most unregistered marriages in Iran take place in border provinces like Sistan and Baluchestan, Khuzestan, Kurdistan as well as in North and South Khorasan.
About the social consequences of the phenomenon, Abhari said: "Due to huge age differences, couples in such marriages are usually sexually incompatible and it often results in extramarital affairs. They often face child-bearing problems. Child marriage also makes girls prone to sexually transmitted diseases and sexual infections. It can also lead to suicide, self-immolation and running away from home in some cases."
Leyla said both of her parents were drug addicts and poorly educated. "I wish I could have gone to school; I only attended until the fifth grade," she said. "After marriage, I had no choice but to move to Tehran to work in order to feed my children. Their father is a drug addict."
With three children, Leyla is the only breadwinner for the family of four. She said her husband often hit her and refused to work. "I am working sporadically as a tailor at home and sometimes I go cleaning," she said. "My 15- and 14-year-old sons also have to work to keep ourselves above water."
Different reasons for child marriage
Sociologist Abhari identifies three categories of child marriages in Iran. "The first group marry off their kids based on decrepit customs like 'blood marriages' or 'navel string marriages,'" he said.
In tribal areas, girls are given away in so-called "blood marriages" as a means of resolving an enduring feud between two tribes. "Navel string marriages" are a form of arranged marriage determined when a child is born. A newborn's umbilical cord is cut symbolically, usually in the name of a cousin, or occasionally, a distant relative. The ceremony is a gesture pledging marriage between the newborn and the cousin or relative.
Another category of child marriage identified by Abhari is based on people in poverty seeking economic gain. These parents send away their daughters very young to the groom's house in exchange for a bride price, which depends on how beautiful the girl is or how rich the future husband is. There are also groups in Iran who believe girls should marry ideally before puberty.
Any hope for change?
In August 2017, Iranian civil activists and politicians took steps to expose the damage caused by child marriage with a statement urging an amendment to marriage law and an increase of the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys to 18. A part of the statement reads that early marriage is a form of child abuse and it violates children's rights, girls' in particular. They also called for criminalization of child marriages and unregistered marriages.
Iranian state media have also reported that lawmakers are currently putting together a plan for legally raising the age for women to be married and putting restrictions on child marriage. It was also reported that a senior Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, had given consent to the plan.
Fatemeh Zolghadr, a member of the Women's Faction in Iran's parliament, told Iran's Ilna news agency that a bill to amend the law on the legal marriage age was being prepared. Zolghadr added that some prominent religious figures had already given the green light for the amendment plan, but it still needs more support.
According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, everyone under the age of 18 is considered a child and is entitled to all the rights included in the convention, which include the right of girls to be "free from all forms of discrimination, inhuman and degrading treatment, and slavery."
Published on DW on September 11, 2017.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognizing children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.