Skip to content

Child, ‘White’ And Other Forms Of ‘Marriage’ In Iran And Afghanistan (And Child Brides As Baby-Production Machines)

August 25, 2021

21.08.22 Snodrops 298 (3)The withdrawal of Western armed forces from Afghanistan has brought brutally into focus how women and girls are treated in some Middle Eastern countries which adhere to strict Sharia (Islamic) law, via which their rights are eroded – not least by concepts of ‘marriage’ which few in the West know or understand. And now we learn that the horrifying practice of child ‘marriage’ is actually  becoming more common in adjoining Iran, a nation which may also benefit from current military manoeuvres and the subsequent reinforcement of Islamic law.

A House with Open Door, the recent book by British-Iranian anthropologist Kameel Ahmady, provides an important source of information about Islamic legal and socio-economic modes of ‘marriage’ in Iran (and other Islamic states).  Marriages may endure from one hour to 99 years, a man may have several wives, and children may be contracted into matrimony. The age at which adult Iranians formally marry by informed mutual consent is rising for largely economic reasons but many tensions exist within this arrangement, and there are numerous other versions of ‘marriage’, some to very young girls and all of them based on patriarchal power and interests. Nor are things much different in places like Pakistan or, in some respects, other countries in that general region, such as Egypt.

In all these locations – and in many other corners even of the Western world – child marriage, often linked to female genital mutilation (FGM), is one of the greatest harms which may be inflicted on girls and women.  This aspect of ‘marriage’ is discussed in A House with Open Door, for which I wrote the Foreword.

Even since I wrote my Foreword the situation for women and girls in parts of the Middle East has deteriorated.  We have seen the Iranian authorities actively challenge Kameel Ahmady’s proposition in 2017 that young girls (or boys) should not be married (see Ahmady’s detailed report: An Echo of Silence – free downloadable pdf here).

This statement (from a longer legal judgement) confirms the Iranian authorities’ current position:

… increasing the age of marriage for children is one of the strategies of the enemy for weakening and ruining the family system….. According to our investigations, should this project be performed, it would lead to a decrease of 100000 marriages and also reduce 20% of the reproduction rate in Iran that would have been disaster in the current situation of Iran, faced with the population crisis.

Similarly, we now read that child marriage in Iran has actually increased in 2020-21.

This situation is grimly unacceptable.  Child marriage becomes simply a way to increase the Iranian population; girls become in this scenario baby machines.  But the ‘marriage’ of young girls (often to older men) spells the likely cessation of their education and even less personal autonomy than for other women who marry later.

And child marriage also exposes the girls to sometimes very serious physical and psychological harm, as well as to the likelihood that their babies will be weaker and more vulnerable both at birth and later on.  As the not-for-profit organization Equality Now tells us (further information via this link),

Child marriage is a human rights violation that impacts women and girls, along with their families and communities, in a variety of overlapping ways. Over 720 million women and girls alive today were married before age 18. Regardless of where in the world she lives, child marriage deprives a girl of a future in which she can reach her full potential and furthers a dangerous cycle of oppression and harm.

It is extraordinary, even in a context like Iran, that the authorities do not understand the obvious costs, both human and economic, of child marriage. Here indeed is yet another example of Patriarchy Incarnate – the imposition of (some) men’s will on women’s bodies – as well, when male babies are born, as also exposing defenceless little boys to significant risks.

Add to such dire considerations matters such as the paper on Rational-Emotional Divorce in Iran which Meysam Barzoki, Mohhamed Tavakoll and I published in 2014 on how married life is conducted by some mature reluctant wives in Iran, and yet more evidence (should it be needed in light of the innumerable reports now available) of the daily reality for Iranian – and probably soon Afghan – women and girls is revealed.

And so we come to the current situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is imposing strict Islamic Sharia law.  This will, despite the Taliban’s claims to have adopted a more modern perspective for the future, undoubtedly reverse many of the advantages women and girls have gained over the past two decades.  Girls as young as 13 (and boys of 15) or even younger will continue to be ‘married’ off, sometimes as second or third ‘wives’, and often to the highest bidder.  In such arrangements, girls and women become merely saleable commodities in whom educational investment is a waste of parental (fathers’) money.

And the same applies in respect of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Iran.  A few years ago I worked with Kameel Ahmady and my friend and colleague Tobe Levin on Kameel’s book, In the Name of Tradition, on this theme.  (Tobe’s and my Afterword is here.) Here too the tragic truth is that girls were being prepared for business-based matrimonial bondage, with little thought by those responsible about the damage inflicted.

As I said in the Foreword to A House with Open Door, it is vitally important at this time that we in the West try to understand what is happening to many women and girls in the Middle East, and especially in the countries where strict Islamic law is observed.  Until we understand, we will not be in a position properly to defend, or at least to draw attention to the plight of, women and girls in such perilous situations.

Read more about Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation

Read more about Iran

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Your Comments on this topic are welcome.  
Please post them in the box which follows these announcements…..

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

18.04.12 FGM books together IMG_3336 (3).JPG

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.

FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.


There is a free FGM hotline for anyone in the UK: 0800 028 3550, or

Details of NHS Specialist Services for FGM here.

More info and posts on FGM here.

Activists, service providers and researchers may like to join the LinkedIn group Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): Information, reports and research, which has several hundred members from around the world.

The (free) #NoFGM Daily News carries (unedited) reports of items shared on Twitter that day about FGM – brings many organisations and developments into focus.

Also available to follow at no cost or obligation is the #NoFGM_USA Daily News.

Twitter accounts:
@NoFGM_UK  @NoFGMBookUK @FemaleMutlnBook  @FGMStatement  @NoFGM_USA @NoFGM_Kenya  @NoFGM_France  [tag for all: #NoFGM] and @StopMGM.

Facebook page#NoFGM – a crime against humanity


Email: Hilary @  Twitter@HilaryBurrage  LinkedInHilary Burrage


[NB The Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, which has a primary focus on FGM, is clear that in formal discourse any term other than ‘mutilation’ concedes damagingly to the cultural relativists – though the terms employed may of necessity vary in informal discussion with those who by tradition use alternative vocabulary. See the Feminist Statement on the Naming and Abolition of Female Genital Mutilation,  The Bamako Declaration: Female Genital Mutilation Terminology and the debate about Anthr/Apologists on this website.]


This article concerns approaches to the eradication specifically of FGM.  I am also categorically opposed to MGM, but that is not the focus of this particular piece, except in the specifics as discussed above.

Anyone wishing to offer additional comment on more general considerations around infant and juvenile genital mutilation is asked please to do so via these relevant dedicated threads.

Discussion of the general issues re M/FGM will not be published unless they are posted on these dedicated pages. Thanks.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: