Forced Marriage Overseas: Iran
Individuals from the United States will likely face serious hurdles and substantial risks if trying to avoid and/or escape a marriage in Iran. Iran’s governance through a highly conservative interpretation of Islamic Shari’ah law, and recognition of male guardianship over both adult and minor females, severely limits the rights and options of women and girls in country. Despite slowly moving efforts to increase protections for Iranian women and girls, violence against women and forced and child marriage remain serious problems.
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Iran please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in Iran
Iran has discriminatory family laws that assert the primacy of men within the institution of the family and that women and children are the property of the men in the family.1 In Iran, women are awarded fewer rights than men with respect to divorce, child custody, employment, and inheritance.2
The marriage of a virgin woman of any age requires the permission of her guardian. The minimum legal age for marriage in Iran is 15 lunar years for boys (14 years and 7 months) and 9 lunar years for girls (8 years and 9 months). However, the Iranian Civil Code allows for the marriage of a child at an even younger age with the permission of the individual’s guardian (father or paternal grandfather). Men are free to marry without approval once they have reached 15 lunar years.
The UN reported that more than 48,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were married in in Iran in 2011, most of whom had at least one child before reaching age 15. Between March 2012 and March 2013, over 40,000 marriages were registered that involved girls under the age of 15, more than 8,000 of whom were married to men who were at least ten years older than their child brides. 3 In July 2014, sources stated that 31,000 girls under the age of 15 had been married in Iran in the previous 9 months.4 The government of Iran does not keep official statistics on marriages according to age and this has led to criticism that Iran is deliberately trying to avoid international scrutiny for its practices of forced and child marriages.5
The requirements for a valid marriage in Iran are similar to those of a civil contract or contract of sale and the completion of the contract establishes a set of duties and rights for the parties including that woman owes her husband the duty of tamkin (or sexual submission and obedience). In connection with this duty, the wife may not do anything that could interfere with her husband’s rights. For example, the wife cannot leave the home without obtaining her husband’s consent, because doing so may interfere with the husband’s right of sexual access.6
The guardian of a minor girl may act on the girl’s behalf to enter her into a marriage whether or not she consents. A girl who has reached the age of majority may not be contracted into compulsory marriage7 and in order for the marriage contract to be enforceable, both of the marrying parties must give consent, however, silence is traditionally interpreted as consent.8
In Iran only the husband possesses the right to divorce and the grounds on which a woman can seek a “cancellation” of a marriage are limited and if granted her dowry must be repaid to her husband.9
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
Iran has no specific laws on domestic violence.10 On November 29, 2014, it was announced that the government had drafted legislation to protect women against violence, but no information regarding the current status of that legislation is available.11
Women who want to leave an abusive relationship face tremendous hurdles, as women are forbidden from leaving their house or working without their husband’s permission. Many women feel compelled to tolerate abuse from their husbands because of fear of shame, fear of being ostracized, fear of divorce, and lack of alternatives to the abusive environment.12 Women with children frequently stay with an abusive spouse out of fear of losing custody of their children if they leave the relationship.13
The police and judicial system are of little help to a woman trying to escape an abusive situation. If an abused woman calls the police, it is unlikely they would intervene in the matter.14 Family courts do not give women protection from abusive husbands, and if there is domestic violence within a marriage, the typical response would be mediation, and often the wife would be sent back to her home, even if she is being abused there.15 There are some NGO shelters and domestic violence hotlines in Iran, but these services exist only in major cities.
Based on the prevailing view of domestic violence as a private family matter, and the lack of support from the police and the judicial system, it is unlikely a girl or woman would be able to rely on domestic violence laws to escape a forced marriage in Iran.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
A woman must show the written, notarized approval of her husband before obtaining a passport and traveling abroad.16 Husbands can forbid their wives from leaving the country by refusing to sign the papers that will allow them to apply for a passport and the exit permit required to travel.17
Unmarried women must have the permission of their father or paternal grandfather to obtain a passport but do not require an exit permit, as married women do.18
Under Iranian law, a female parent travelling with her children must have the permission of the father to take them out of Iran.19
Non-Iranian-national women who marry Iranian citizens gain Iranian nationality upon marriage. If the marriage takes place in Iran, the woman’s U.S. passport will be confiscated by Iranian authorities. As mentioned above, having become an Iranian citizen, this woman must have the consent of her husband to leave Iran or, in his absence, must gain the permission of the local prosecutor. Iranian law, combined with the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, means that the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran can provide very limited assistance if a U.S. citizen woman married to an Iranian man has marital difficulties and/or encounters difficulty in leaving Iran.
Assistance for Individuals from the United States
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Iran, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
Given the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran (located within the Embassy of Switzerland) can provide only very limited assistance if a U.S. citizen woman married to an Iranian man has marital difficulties and/or encounters difficulty in leaving Iran.
- U.S. Interests Section
The United States does not have any embassy or consulate in Iran and the Swiss Government serves as the protecting power for U.S. citizens in Iran.Embassy of Switzerland – U.S. Interests Section
Tel: +(98) (21) 2254-2178 and +(98) (21) 2256-5273
1Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Reform and Regression: The Fate of the Family Protection Law, (September 27, 2008), available at http://fis-iran.org/en/women/articles/reform-and-regression; and Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Book 7, Chapter 8, Article 1105
2 Mohammad H. Nayyeri, Gender Inequality and Discrimination: The Case of Iranian Women, p. 59 (2013), Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/legal-commentary/1000000261-gender-inequality-and-discrimination-the-case-of-iranian-women.html
3 US Department of State, Iran 2014 Human Rights Report, p. 35 (2014), available at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/236810.pdf
4 Rudaw, The Challenge of Forced Child Marriage In Iran, (July 15, 2014) available at http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iran/15072014
5 Justice For Iran, Stolen Lives, Empty Classrooms: An Overview of Girl Marriages in the Islamic Republic of Iran, p. 2-3 (2013), available at http://justiceforiran.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/JFI-Girl-Marriage-in-Iran-EN.pdf
6 Nayyeri, supra at 19; and Gabriel Sawma, The Law of Marriage in Iran, available at http://gabrielsawma.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-law-of-marriage-in-iran.html
7 Nayyeri, supra at 23; and Ehan Zar Rokh, Marriage and Divorce Under Iranian Family Law, available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1886349, p. 13
8 Ehan Zar Rokh, Marriage and Divorce Under Iranian Family Law, available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1886349
9 Nayyeri, supra at 41
10 Amnesty International, You Shall Procreate: Attacks on Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Iran, page 30 (2015), available at http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/you_shall_procreate_-_
11 Ahmed Shaheed, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, p. 19, United National Human Rights Council (March 12, 2015), available at http://shaheedoniran.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/A_HRC_28_70_en-PDF.pdf
12 Yakin Erturk, Integration of the Human Rights of Women and a Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women, page 11 (2006), United Nations Economic and Social Council, available at http://www.iranrights.org/attachments/library/doc_266.pdf
13 Id. at 14
14 Pars Times, Violence Against Women – In Iran, Abuse is Part of the Culture (Part 2), (2003), available at http://www.parstimes.com/women/violence_culture.html
15 Women’s Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran, Compilation of Iranian Legal Provisions on Women’s Rights (2005), available at http://www.wfafi.org/laws.pdf
16 Erturk, supra at 14
17 Nayyeri, supra at 35
18 Country Information and Guidance : Iran : Background information, including actors of protection, internal relocation and illegal exit, November 20&4, UK Home Office, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/
file/378501/cig_iran_background_2014_11_25_v10.pdf, Section 2.12.2
19 Foreign Travel Advice, Iran, UK Government, available at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/iran/entry-requirements