Updated: Nov 19, 2020
Did you know the legal age for a girl to get married in Iran is nine years old?
Nine! Can you believe it?
The Sharia-based Iranian law states that the legal age for marriage in Iran is thirteen but can be much younger if a father or brother gives consent to the young girl’s nuptial.
I was born and raised in a Jewish family in Iran and left that country when I was only thirteen years old. My mind is filled with countless happy childhood memories, family times, and picnics. Those were truly some of the best years of my life…I grew up assuming everyone around me was treated the same way that I was, living a blessed life, a child being a child.
It was only years later that I began to learn more about the lives of women in my life: my grandmothers, their mothers, aunts, and neighbors.
When I moved to the United States, I quickly learned that there were few things my American friends would find fascinating. The fact that I didn't go to school riding on a camel was one.
The other was the fact that my grandmother had been married at the age of nine. When my friends would enquire about the lives of these women, I would shrug and simply respond by saying “it was something that was commonly done and was accepted back then, but no Jewish family does such a thing anymore.” Given that I had grown up with this knowledge all my life, I had accepted it as something that was just done, something that people did, and it was no big deal.
What I had never allowed myself to think about was what it must have been like for a girl to get married at the young of an age.
So, it wasn’t until later on in life, as a matter of fact, until just a couple of years ago, that I began to think of my grandmother’s life and what the true experience of getting married before she had even gotten her period must have been like. Her experience, and countless other ones, was what drove me to work on my book, The Invisible Her. I felt it my obligation to give word to their feelings, their lives, their pain, their sufferings, and in some cases, their triumphs.
As Jews, the practice of marrying the young girls in Iran has long been eradicated, as many parents strive to give a better life to their children, sons, and daughters alike. As many of my fellow community people became more educated and more affluent, the lives of their daughters also improved, gained more value, and rendered them more freedom.
It was only when I began the research for my book that I learned Iran still allows fathers to marry off their daughters as young as nine. I can somehow swallow the fact that my grandmother was married off at the age of nine back in the 1930s…but it is far from what I can accept in the 21st century.
When I was nine, I was in third grade and I was just a girl who was busy playing house or tying to win at monopoly against my brother.
And to this day, the same reasons why my grandmother was married at nine, young girls are being married in villages and towns in Iran. Poverty, lack of education, and unrealistic traditional costumes are some of the reasons as to why fathers marry off their young daughters. But the fathers have something on their side that takes away the power from these young girls even more, and that is the sharia-based religious laws that dictate much of what life looks like in Iran.
At what point does the girl begin to realize that she is not playing house with a boy, but has been chained to a lifetime of obligations, possible abuse, and navigating a confusing set of expectations?
I will be writing more about this topic over the next few weeks and would welcome your thoughts and feelings…