The Justice for Iran organization has written to Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, asking her to investigate and take action to stop the practice. Photo: AP
TORONTO, Canada— An Iranian human rights organization has appealed to the United Nations to investigate the phenomenon of child brides in a country where each year thousands of girls under-15 are forced into marriage by their families.
It is a custom that has died out among wealthier families in Iran but remain prevalent in poorer areas, including those populated by Kurds.
The Justice for Iran organization has written to Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, asking her to investigate and take action to stop the practice.
Under Iranian law, girls can be married off if their fathers, grandfathers, uncles or other male guardians decide.
A threat to execute Razieh Ebrahimi, a child bride who was forced to marry at 14, had a child at 15 and shot her husband at 17, drew international attention to the plight of the girls in clergy-ruled Iran.
According to official statistics quoted by the BBC’s Persian Service, about 31,000 girls under the age of 15 married in Iran over the past nine months.
Interviews with some of those involve indicate their experiences differ.
Roonak H. a small-business owner in Mariwan and mother of two, told Rudaw it was a big concern for the family when her sixteen-year-old niece was to be married. The family was divided; some argued that the sooner a girl gets married, the better. Others were worried that she was too young and faced a risky marriage. The girl, Awin H., went on to marry a 26-year-old man.
Awin, known among neighbors and relatives for her striking beauty, had been receiving marriage proposals since before she was 14. Her father, unlike the Western stereotype of the Middle Eastern male, was the one most concerned and he advised against marriage at 16.
Awin told Rudaw over by phone: “My father was worried but my mother and I liked K. and we insisted. I have lived happily with my husband for two years now and with his support, I have continued my education. A man this good is not easy to find so when he appeared in my life, I knew I shouldn’t let him go.”
But not all child brides are as happy as Awin. A 17-year-old woman who asked to remain anonymous told Rudaw that she ran away from home when her father decided to force her to marry a man she didn’t like.
This woman is from Baneh, a Kurdish region in Iran. She left home a few days before her appointed religious wedding, crossed the Kurdistan mountains and the border illegally to get to Sulaimani. There she was referred to a women’s shelter. She preferred to risk her life than to marry a man in his forties.
Most young women aren’t as brave as her in finding a solution to their problems. What tends to happen often is that young women find themselves powerless to resist family and community pressure. They get married hoping to find happiness, a dream that often does not come true.
Years later, trapped in marriage, mistreated by their husbands, deprived of the right to divorce, a surge of disappointment and powerlessness washes over them. “I didn’t know who I was and what life was about when I got married,” said one woman.
Shadi Sadr, a British-based Iranian lawyer and rights activist, said women “who are forced into marriage at childhood, are actually being raped constantly under the name of marriage. While they should go to school at that age, they are instead experiencing a life full of violence with no legal support. They eventually kill themselves or their husbands to end this vicious circle."
In some extreme cases, self-immolation becomes the only remaining act of control over their bodies for these women. Setting themselves alight is sometimes the only means of reacting to laws that leave them with no freedom as human beings.