A quarterly report by the Statistical Center of Iran has shown child marriage in Iran hit record heights last summer even as the overall rate of new marriages slowed.
In the three months from June 21 to September 21, an average of 100 children under the age of 15 were married off every 24 hours.
The picture is the darkest it has been for many years. Many of these children will not have returned to school after the weddings. Closer scrutiny of the provincial distribution of these events also shows the phenomenon is changing shape – and the increase cannot be compelled by economic factors alone.
One hundred marriages under the age of 15 every 24 hours in Iran. The shock figures in the quarterly report from the Statistical Center of Iran speak for themselves, as does the fact that apparently, total the number of child marriages in the first half of 2020 reached 16,382: the highest on record.
Article 1041 of the Iranian Civil Code states the marriage of girls under the age of 13 and boys under the age of 15 is conditional on "observance of expediency at the discretion of a competent court"; a condition that seems to have had little effect in curbing the ongoing crisis of girls' being married off before reaching legal age.
Analysis of marriage and divorce statistics in the first half of 2020 shows that although the total number of marriages across Iran has decreased slight, the child marriage rate reached its highest level in recent years.
Of the approximately 289,000 marriages registered this spring and summer, more than 16,000 involved brides under the age of 15. Thus in the first half of this year, the child-marriage rate (the ratio of marriages of girls under 15 to total marriages) was 7.5 percent, the highest in the past eight years.
The following annual, semi-annual and quarterly tables, which have been prepared based on the data of the Civil Registration Organization and the Statistical Center of Iran, are the official statistics related to child marriage in the years 2013 to 2020:
The historic data shows that even as the overall marriage rate in Iran has declined, the share and the rate of child marriage has increased.
Prior to last year, the highest marriage rate involving girls under the age of 15 was recorded in 2017-19 at 5.5 percent. In the quarterly statistics of the last three years, the overall child marriage rate never exceeded 6.5 percent, but what happened in the spring and summer of 2020 – in the middle of the coronavirus crisis and against a backdrop of deteriorating economic and living conditions – is unprecedented in its bleakness.
However, the situation is vastly different in different provinces. The recent report of the Statistical Center does not mention the provincial data, but a review of civil registration statistics in recent years indicates that the rate of child marriage in the north western and north eastern provinces of Iran is higher than other provinces.
More Affluent Provinces Among Those with High Child Marriage Rates
In 2018-19, the highest child marriage rate was apparently in Zanjan province, and was almost 2.5 times the national average. In that year, some 14 out of every 100 marriages registered in the province involved a bride aged 14 or younger.
After Zanjan, the highest child marriage rate was ascribed to North Khorasan (12 percent) and next in line were Ardabil, East Azerbaijan, and Razavi Khorasan provinces (each with a rate above 11 percent). Immediately after them was Hamedan province, with a recorded rate of 10 percent.
In the central provinces the marriage rate was mostly between 2 and 5 percent. At the bottom of the table were the provinces of Tehran, Isfahan and Alborz, with a child marriage rate of less than 2 percent, and these provinces also recorded the lowest overall number of under-15s’ marriages in the country. These figures may seem low compared to other provinces, but they are hardly to be celebrated: in many other countries in the world the child marriage rate stands at zero.
This is part of an ongoing pattern that can be observed over many years, as detailed in the map and chart below.
Geographical distribution of child marriage
Although some studies suggest economic factors are effective in inciting child marriage, as shown in the map and table above, the child marriage rate in the poorer regions of Iran is not necessarily higher than in other provinces. For example, Razavi Khorasan and East Azerbaijan are relatively wealthy, and yet high rates of child marriage persist. Meanwhile marriage rates under the age of 15 are relatively low in the less affluent western and southern provinces, despite the severe economic hardship people there endure.