By Piya Chakrabarti:
Early marriage, traditionally practiced in Shia Iran from decades, greatly endorsed and encouraged by the Sharia Law, has been strengthened by the recent inclination of the Iranian Parliament (Majiles), to legalize marriage for girl-children, as young as “under 10years of age”.
Despite the optimistic signs of decadence observed in the “post-revolution” trends of early marriages, they continue to be secretly and widely practiced under various criminal concealments, such as tampering with the birth certificates of child brides etc. (techniques in vogue during the pre-revolution years of the previous Constitution.) Iranian delegation to the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) signed an agreement in 1998, defining a child as “anybody under the age of eighteen” and reserved the right, not to implement the clauses which were considered against the Islamic doctrines. This resulted to a reception of numerous unwelcome oppositions from the traditional customs and unwritten bylaws, prevalent in the Iranian society.
A member of the Majiles, Mohammad Ali Isfenani has been reported to argue, “We must regard 9 as being the appropriate age for a girl to have reached puberty and qualified to get married. To do otherwise would be to contradict and challenge Islamic Sharia law.” A news release from the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee, states that the current civil law, drafted before the revolution (in the late 1970’s) concerning the legal age of marriage for girls under the age of ten, is considered “un-Islamic and illegal.”
The effects of often arranged, forced, persuaded and coerced marriage on girl-children, who have not reached the biological stage of puberty, is fatal. Children of the aforesaid age-group have often been reported to die after their first intercourse from bleeding and are subjected to marital rape. The mortality rate of mothers under the age of fifteen is five times higher than those over twenty year old. Even child birth to an early-adolescent mother can be associated with devastating health anomalies like obstetric fistulae, miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, sexually transmitted diseases (including cervical cancer), and malaria. The surviving infants born to mothers, not bodily sufficiently developed for reproduction, are often reported to suffer from low birth weight, malnutrition and late physical and cognitive development. Child brides are often the most vulnerable prey to appalling domestic violence (which includes slapping, beating, threatening from their husband), sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress. They are most importantly deprived of their opportunities to complete their education and explore their innate talents and capabilities. However, the physical and psychological effects of early marriage on a male child cannot be undermined, and is equally detrimental.
Child marriage is a turbulent issue in many economically under-developed countries like the Middle-East countries, India, Bangladesh, and the Sub-Saharan African countries (Chad, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, Mali, Mozambique, Uganda, Somalia, and Zambia). The UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children-2009” report states, 47% of India’s women aged 20—24 were married before the legal age of 18, with 56% marrying before age 18 in rural areas. The report depicted that 40% of the world’s child marriages occur in India. Despite the original Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006, child marriage is as rampant in India, as in the Middle East, having its roots deeply grounded in poverty, religious bigotry and fanaticism, and ignorance.
“Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides, according to United Nations Population Fund” (UNFPA). The magnanimous activities of more than 2500 non-government organisations(NGO’s) like the Association for Protection of Women, Women & Social Development Association etc. in Iran, have significantly helped reduce the ill-effects of inevitable child marriages and progressed to sensitize the International media about issues like child mortality, gender inequality, improvement of maternal health, and Child Rights.