The Iranian decision to allow nine-year-old girls the legal opportunity to be married to fully grown men was announced by Mohammad Ali Isfenani, chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee.
Isfenani called Iran’s current civil legislation, which sets the minimum legal age of marriage for girls at 13-years-old, “un-Islamic and illegal,” saying, “We must regard nine 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.”
Isenfani’s clarion call for prepubescent marriage comes at the same moment a new report from the Union for the Protection of Children’s Rights (UPCR) found 75 Iranian girls less than 10-years-old were forced to marry in the past two months, part of a sharp rise in the overall number of Iranian child brides under the age of 10.
According to UPCR, of the 342,000 Iranian marriages among girls under 18-years-old registered in 2010, at least 713 marriages involved girls under 10-years-old, more than twice as many as were registered in the prior three years. Moreover, of these underage marriages, 42,000 involved girls between the ages of 10 to 14.
The Iranian appetite for child brides led Farshid Yezdani, an activist with UPCR, to note, “It is a worrying trend to see and something that we are all working hard to end. The best way to end this kind of practice is to give information on how to better one’s life without infringing on a child’s ability to have a childhood.”
Tragically, a lost childhood is not just the providence of Iranian girls but rather for a distressingly large and ever-expanding number of little girls worldwide. To that end, there are now more than 50 million child brides, a number that is growing by 10 million each year and which is expected to reach 100 million young victims over the next decade.
These unfortunate children are married off for a bevy of cultural and religious reasons, ranging from ensuring familial alliances to economic necessities, such as settling debts or overcoming natural disasters to ensure a family’s survival.
In that latter example, drought-stricken Africa has witnessed the emergence of so-called “drought brides” who are being sold for as little as $170. As one NGO worker explained, “Some households have 10 children and feeding those children is really hard,” so marrying off one young girl ensures “that the rest of the family does not die from lack of food.”
While the reasons behind these human transactions may vary, the one commonality is that the younger the girl, the better the deal. Specifically, it is important that these girls be sold off at a young enough age to better ensure their virginity, thus increasing their economic value and protecting the honor of their families.
Not surprisingly, once handed-off, these child brides are then consigned to a terrifyingly nasty, brutish and short-lived existence at the hands of men who ostensibly should be looking out for their well-being and not using them as sexual toys for their own perverse enjoyment.
For starters, these young brides rarely continue their education, denying them any hope of independence, the ability to earn a livelihood or of making an economic contribution to their households, thus condemning them to a grim life of ignorance and poverty.
Moreover, the life expectancy of their frightful existence is likely to be cut exceedingly short given the multitude of health risks inherent in being a child bride, not the least of which is the high mortality rate from childbirth injuries, where an estimated 70,000 girls under 15 die each year from complications during pregnancy or childbirth.