On 19th November 2020, IOPHR held a webinar on the “Legalisation of Child Marriage and the Oppression of Women Under Iran’s Ruling Regime in the Last Four Decades.”

This event which was hosted by IOPHR in association with the International Religious Freedom Roundtable and Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s multi-decade oppression of women and children’s rights were discussed.

The speakers at this event were representatives from IOPHR, and women’s rights activists, some of whom were from various minorities such as the Baha’i and Jewish communities, all of whom discussed the worsening conditions of women and children’s rights under Iran’s ruling regime.

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A start was made by the chair of the event, Mattie Heaven, IOPHR Policy & Advocacy Advisor, who stated that the Islamic of Republic of Iran uses Islam as a pretext and as a tool to rob the rights of Iranian citizens. This is especially true in the case of women’s rights, as it uses the pretext of Islam to give more rights to men at the expense of women’s rights. Thus, in effect make women in Iran submissive to men, through the use of cruel practices like child marriages and imposed Hijab, beating of women, polygamy, honour based violence and honour killings.

Ms Heaven also stated that “none of these practices are actually mentioned in the Quran, and when a person takes a deeper look into the Quran, they will see these acts are incompatible with the Quran. The regime uses misinterpretations, misconceptions and fabricated sayings attributed to holy figures in place of Quranic verses in order to violate the rights of women. For example, in the Quran there is no mention of women needing to cover their hair, and the same goes for all other barbaric acts that are imposed on women under the name of Islam. Yet, the regime hides these acts under the flag of Islam. Therefore, we must not allow the regime to use these pretexts and show these acts as crimes against humanity.”

The first speaker of the event was Nazenin Ansari, Human Rights Activist, Publisher & Editor at Keyhan London, and a member of Chatham House and International institute for strategic studies. Ms Ansari began her speech by stating that her own grandmother nearly 100 years ago was married at the age of 15 in Iran. However, before the Iranian revolution, in 1975 the legal age of marriage for women was changed to 18, and this was the law in Iran, which even then was an Islamic country. However, today almost 500,000 children some as young as aged 8 get married, most of whom are girls. She also stated that in 2010, there were only 716 underage recorded child marriage and this figure in 2011 jumped to between 20,000-40.000, and today stands at 500,000!

Ms Ansari stated that the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei in response to the green movement uprising of 2009, seemed to have instigated a move to create new generations of Iranians to be born, with the move to increase Iran’s population to 100 million, through normalisation of child marriages. Moreover, the real number of child marriage could be much higher, as many marriages are not registered and those registered have often failed to record the correct age of the people involved. Furthermore, the children who are forced into marriages have no rights, and the babies born into this type of marriages also have no rights. All of which often leads to temporary marriages, and frequent divorces that also often leads to suicides.

She also stated that what happens is partly because of religion, but also partly because of the theocratic regime that rules Iran, where women are not given the same rights as men. Thus, as a result a woman’s life is in effect worth half of that of a man’s life, especially when you consider polygamy and child marriages are promoted by state media. Therefore, these factors also affect the human rights of women, in areas like education and training where women do not have the same rights as men. Despite the fact that Iran has signed many of the international cultural, human and children’s rights charters, we still see as many as 500,000 child marriages in Iran. All of which leads to poverty and numerous social problems.

Ms Ansari ended her remarks by stating that apart from the international community, all Iranians inside and outside should share the responsibility for the current situation in Iran, and thus they all need to help to bring about change in Iran. As all Iranians know, they deserve better but they all need to act.

The second speaker of the webinar was Marjan Keypour Greenblatt who is the Founder of the Alliance of Rights for All Minorities (ARAM). Ms Greenblatt began her speech by stating that the topic of Iranian women’s rights is difficult to comprehend in the context of the Iranian women one often sees in the West, or the image of Iranian women the Iranian regime promotes, who are often cultured, and successful. However, the majority of Iranian women in Iran in reality are under constant repression. As everyday they wake up in a state where their movements and freedoms are restricted. Ranging from freedom in regards to marriage, or right of inheritance, entrainment, dance, sport, travel, employment, or involvement in politics.

Iranian women suffer consistent repression, which is ingrained in Iran, and in effect, stops all freedoms for minorities and different sections of society. These repressions do not effect issues related to women only, like the imposition of the hijab, and has also led to some Iranian men to make a stance and stand up for women’s rights.

Ms Greenblatt also stated that women’s rights by in large is still a women’s fight and there is also the growing #METOO movement in Iran, which started in 2014, when a woman named Reyhani, in attempt to defend herself against a sexual attack, killed her assailant.  As a result, sadly, Rehani was executed as she refused to back down from her rights of self-defence.

Ms Greenblatt also mentioned that currently there are many women coming forth in a growing #METOO movement, trying to break this taboo, by pointing their fingers, and blaming their assailants, and asking for justice. Moreover, more men are also coming to support women. This movement is taking place within social media, but we are still far from where we need to be. Polygamy and child marriage are widespread and propagated by the regime through propaganda and social media. All of which are brain washing some women into accepting this type of behaviour under the guise of ‘child empowerment.’

In her speech Ms Greenblatt also mentioned the horrors associated with honour killing, which has also shocked many Iranians. In particular, the recent case of a thirteen-year-old girl named Romina, who was beheaded by her own father. What makes this case stand out is that Romina’s father seems to have researched the legal consequences of his actions, before committing this act. It was after discovering the limited legal consequences of his actions that he gained the courage to commit this horrendous act. All of which puts immense pressure on children in similar circumstances.

Ms Greenblatt ended her speech by stating that the Iranian government has used religion as a pretext to control people, and this control covers all sections of society, and during the November 2019 protests it prompted the regime to kill thousands of protestors in order for the regime to keep its control.

The third speaker at the event was Simin Fahandej who is the Baha’i representative at the UN, Geneva.

Ms Fahandej’s speech was on the topic of multiple discriminations, and she began her talk by stating that the international human rights charter states that all human beings are born free without distinction and Iran is one of the signatories to this charter. Nevertheless, we see in practice many human rights violations occur in Iran, as these obligations are systematically ignored. Thus, in effect we see ethnic women suffer both violations of ethic rights, but also suffer from women’s rights violations.

As for example in the case of Baha’i faith, which is the largest non-Muslim group in Iran, we see that their persecution is actually legalised under current Iranian law. This persecution is legitimatised by the use of Iranian constitution, as the Baha’i faith is not a recognised religion under Iranian law.

Ms Fahandej, also stated that according to 1991 governmental document, which was signed by Khamenei, Baha’is should be barred from jobs, education and advancements. This document is in effect the regime’s blueprint for destruction of the Baha’i community. She stated that the Baha’i faith, which stresses on full equality between men and women, is seen as a threat to the regime. Therefore, Baha’i women are under immense pressure which has led to the execution of Baha’i women, who were forced to choose between conversion to Islam or being executed.

As a result of arrests and threats faced, Baha’i women encounter huge psychological pressures. They are subjected to all types of discriminations faced by all Iranian women, in addition to the discriminations they face because of their faith. Hence, they are victims of multi discrimination, all of which places them under extra stress.

Ms Fahandej ended her talk by stating that when a government systematically violates the rights of its citizens, then in this situation the international community must become responsible for putting pressure on the governments like Iran to change its behaviour. Therefore, all activists must try to create a single voice of unity against the Iranian regime in order to force it to change its behaviour.

The last speaker of the event was Afshin Sajedi, IOPHR European Representative and Legal Advisor. Mr Sajedi began his speech firstly by apologising for the sensitive and uncomfortable topic of his talk, which was on the Iranian regime’s violation of women and children’s rights, which can be viewed as a form of legalised paedophilia and sex slavery. But, Mr Sajedi stated that unless we can openly discuss such topics, we will not be able to put an end to them. He then stated that in Iran, violations of human rights of women begins from the moment of their birth, as they are under immense pressure for simply being born a girl.

Mr Sajedi stated that Iran actually has two legal systems. The first being Sharia derived, that relies on jurisprudence from Shia cleric dictates, and judges in Iran are encouraged to use Sharia decrees when they can’t find suitable codified legal laws.

The second legal system in Iran, is the codified legal system. However, in practice, it’s very natural for Sharia laws to take precedence over legal codified systems. One of the situations that this is often the case is with marriage laws. As under clerical decrees which make up Sharia law, the lowest age of matrimony for a young girl is 18 months, and under some decrees it’s the age of 9.  In another word, one can sadly say in effect paedophilia is justified under this law.  Under the codified law the legal age of marriage is 13 for a girl, but in unregistered marriages, this in practice is as young as 9. Therefore, 9 year old girls are forced to face sexual abuse.

Mr Sajedi also stated that: “What is more shocking is that violations of these age limits under Sharia law is not considered as legal violations but only as a religious sin! Furthermore, according to a civil code the legal age of marriage for women is 13 and for men 15 and is subject to the consent of the child’s legal guardian. However, in practice these limits are bypassed by clerical decrees under Sharia law, and are not legally challenged.

Mr Sajedi in his speech made the point that in Iran the legal age for opening bank accounts or driving are higher than the age of marriage. Thereby leading in practice to cases of legalised sexual slavery. As child marriages should be considered as a form of child slavery and child abuse! Therefore, one can argue that in Iran every year, there are 500,000 cases of legalised sexual slavery and abuse, which often lead to child pregnancy where babies born are often abandoned without any governmental responsibility. All this sadly occurs because clerics through clerical decrees have taken control of the Iranian regime.

Mr Sajedi in his concluding remarks stated that international attention on these matters is required in order for the Iranian regime to change its behaviour. Furthermore, human rights activists need to make clear to the international community that any dealings with the Iranian regime which supports such violations, will make that person automatically complicit with these crimes against humanity.  Therefore, keeping human rights in mind with all international interactions with Iran is paramount. However, what is sadly observed in practice is that human rights are usually the first victims of any international negotiations with Iran. Even though this should not be the case, as human rights needs to be protected. Especially as international counties that often deal with Iran have often promised to live up to these standards.

A video link of the complete event will be shown here in due course.

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