Book Chapter (Temporary and Child Marriages in Iran and Afghanistan) Chapter 3 (P 63-84)

The Role of Temporary Marriage (TM) in Promoting Early Child Marriage (ECM) in Iran

Kameel Ahmady

Abstract This study aims to deepen understanding of the phenomenon of temporary marriage (TM) and its role in promoting early child marriage (ECM) in Iran. The research reveals that traditional families wish to control the sexual behavior of boys and girls and avoid the social pressure on them at mixed gatherings, by making them mahram (In Islam, a mahram is a member of one’s family with whom marriage would be considered haram (illegal in Islam); from whom purdah, or concealment of the body with hijab, is not obligatory; and who may serve as a legal escort of a woman during journeys longer than three days) to one another through temporary marriage.

It demonstrates that while temporary marriage has a role in legalizing illicit relationships, it also facilitates the ECM narrative in Iran. ECM, however, is not the only by-product of the temporary marriage but contributes to stigmatizing the younger generation in various ways. Moreover, religion is only one contributor to the popularity of temporary marriages, which is more about the control and power exerted by Iran’s patriarchal society and male-dominated culture over the most vulnerable segment of the population: the women.

Keywords Temporary marriage · Sigheh · Child marriage · Iran · Culture · Religion

The Phenomenon of Temporary Marriage

Temporary marriage, often referred to in Arabic as nikah mut’ah (marriage in the Shia sect of Islam) short-term marriage or sigheh mahramiat, is an ancient practice (Badran et al. 2019). It allows Muslim men and women to be considered husband and wife for a limited and fixed period of time (Johnson 2013). After specifying a dower, the price the bride is paid by the groom or his family (Manzar 2008). Historically, nikah mut’ah was used to allow a man, when traveling long distances, to have a wife for a short period of time. In Arabic, the dictionary definition of nikah is marriage and

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© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2021 47 S. B. Hosseini (ed.), Temporary and Child Marriages in Iran and Afghanistan,

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of mut’ah is “enjoyment, pleasure, delight.” This practice of temporary marriage has probably existed since the lifetime of Muhammad (PBUH), who is believed to have recommended it to his companions and soldiers (Sciolino 2000), though there is no ancient narrative to prove this statement. Temporary marriage was used by pilgrims mostly in Iran in Shiite shrine cities such as Meshed and Qum (Sciolino 2000). A temporary marriage helped to prevent sexual immorality and enabled men to meet their sexual needs legitimately and legally when they were far from their spouse, for example, during a pilgrimage (Sciolino 2000).

Linguistically, mut’ah is derived from the root word of mat’h meaning something that can be taken advantage of for a short period of time for pleasure (Ibn Manzoor 1993, p. 239). Mut’ah thus refers to a marriage between a man and woman for a specified duration; it allows spouses the right of separation without formal legal divorce proceedings. Moreover, Al-Allameh Al Hilli defines mut’ah as discontinuous temporary marriage (Al-Hilli 1991, p. 175).

The nikah mut’ah is based on a verbal or written contract (sigheh) under which both parties agree to the duration and conditions for the marriage, similar to the elements of a commercial contract (Sciolino 2000). Like any other contract, mut’ah marriage creates rights and obligations between the contracting parties (Lindberg 2012). The union can last for a few hours, days, months, or years, but when the contract terminates so does the marriage, much in the same way a long- term/permanent/conventional marriage does under Iranian law. The main difference is that the temporary marriage lasts only for a specified period of time. Generally, the nikah mut’ah has no prescribed minimum or maximum duration (Labi 2014).

At the end of the contract, the wife must undergo iddah, a period of abstinence from sexual intercourse she must usually observe after the death of her husband or after a divorce, during which she may not marry another man (Esposito and DeLong-Bas 2001). Although nikah mut’ah is a Shia concept, other types of informal marriages are practiced by Sunni Muslims, such as misyar, temporary marriage in Sunni sect of Islam and urfi (Mahmood 2013).

The issue of mut’ah is a delicate one, fraught with rancorous debate; it has also been distorted and misused over the years (Moaddel and Talattof 2016). Moreover, there is a sectarian divide over the issue. The majority Sunni sect in Islam has banned it; the minority Shiite sect has not. In the Muslim world, the concept is better known in the Shia sect, which believes it to be legally permissible (Badran et al. 2019). When the concept was first introduced, however, all Muslim sources agreed that it was expedient (Bang 2016). Critics of these informal marriages among both Sunnis and Shias, however, are against the practice of mut’ah, principally the practice of a man taking on multiple “wives” contractually for a number of hours and thus having multiple sexual partners. It has also been argued that mut’ah marriages are used as an “Islamic cover-up” for prostitution and for the exploitation of women (Mikhail 2002; Spencer 2015).

3 The Role of Temporary Marriage (TM) in Promoting Early … 49

Research Methodology

The results, following a study conducted in three metropolitan cities in Iran, corrob- orate the main argument set forth in this chapter, namely, that temporary marriages contribute to the trend of early child marriages in Iran. The methods here described were adopted to conduct the study and triangulate the data in order to achieve the results.

Temporary marriage is a multi-dimensional topic. As a result, and to ensure the reliability of this study, different research methodologies were used to analyze the results. The present study is a step toward a deeper understanding of the subject matter of temporary marriage. It also aims to clarify various aspects of it and to illustrate the consequences arising from it that, to date, have remained hidden from the public eye and even from researchers. The study was conducted within the framework of interpretivism using a qualitative research approach, field theory: the proposition that human behavior is the function of both the person and the person’s environment.

The research was performed in three metropolises, Tehran, Isfahan, and Mashhad. In field studies, the research question cannot be specified meticulously in advance (Caelli et al. 2003). The number of participants also cannot be predicted, as the size of sample is specified through the data collected and their interpretation. It should be mentioned that sampling continues, without any limit to the number of participants, until theoretical saturation is achieved (Parvizi 2014, p. 146). Due to the cultural and religious sensitivity of the research topic and the difficulty of obtaining samples, prob- ability sampling was used. Although theoretical and data saturation were achieved after 100 interviews, more interviews were conducted to make the results more reli- able. The researchers agreed on the theoretical saturation and comprehensiveness of the research after interviewing 216 people. However, the experts on the qualitative method helped supervise the process and provided guidance throughout the study. During the field research, the ration of interviews conducted among men and women were 35% and 65%, respectively.

To enrich the research, religious experts, jurists, legal experts, attorneys, and marriage registry officers were also interviewed. The data for the present study were collected through a free and in-depth interview technique. The initial interviews were then analyzed and interpreted using theoretical coding (open, axial, and selec- tive). An informal interview method was applied to collect data and define important concepts and categories of participants. At the second stage, the concepts and cate- gories defined in the interview process were pursued in line with the sampling. Once the general themes of the interviews had been created using these concepts and cate- gories, the interview questions were standardized using the semi-structured interview method. The process continued until theoretical saturation was achieved. Afterward, major categories, sub-categories, and concepts were realized by implementing open coding simultaneously with data collection.

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Linking TM and ECM

The widespread traditional practice of temporary marriage (TM) encourages the frequency of child marriage in Iran. The essence of temporary marriage is based on well-known quotations from Shia religious sources and is permitted in Islam; it does not, however, equally benefit men and women. While temporary marriage is legitimate from a religious point of view, it is the age at which a temporary marriage is permitted that is concerning here. The Twelver jurisprudence and Civil Code of Iran specify an age of 13 (or 9 with the permission of the court and the parents) for marriage (Namdari 2015). From the perspective of some traditional Islamic scholars like Mamusta Abdul Karim Shahrikandi, Ahmad Moftizadeh, and some Shia sources like Ayatollah Sanei, TM and TM at this age are not legitimately acceptable for today’s women. The legal age of marriage for children in Iran, and particularly girls, is a contributing factor to early marriage. In his book, Temporary and Permanent Marriage, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (fourth President of Iran 1989–1997) consid- ered nine to be the age at which sigheh mahramiat is permitted (Niechciał 2009). Thus, the religious legitimacy of temporary marriage indirectly validates the rationale for child marriage.

Religious scholars, for example, Ayatollah Sistani—one of the most influential Iraqi–Iranian Shia marja’, living in Iraq and described as the leading spiritual leader of Iraqi Shia Muslims and one of the most senior clerics in Shia Islam—and Ayatollah Noori Hamedani—an Iranian Twelver Shi’a religious leader—state that there is no difference between sigheh mahramiat and temporary marriage (Turner 2003). Traditional families are thus compelling sons or daughters to marry through sigheh mahramiat or temporary marriage as a means of controlling their sexual behavior and because of the pressures imposed by culture (Ahmady 2017). The marriage partner selected will also be from a comparable religious family. However, in such cases, the avoidance of sexual penetration is implicitly set as a condition in sigheh mahramiat.

Obviously, one cannot expect the couples to adhere to their parents’ wishes and abstain from sex, as they are in early puberty and thus emotionally immature and economically dependent (and therefore more easily controlled) (Ahmady 2017). The results of the present study and interviews with traditional religious families indicate that child marriage is practiced in the framework of sigheh mahramiat or tempo- rary marriage by the permission of the parents. According to our interviews, some children have not been happy with such marriages. Moreover, as children do not know what to expect from a marriage, it is impossible to consider their degree of satisfaction or dissatisfaction as a credible indicator.

The legitimacy of a relationship is important in Iranian society, and relationships are permissible only if sanctioned by religion. Such an attitude reduces the necessity to follow the law. The relationships formed under sigheh mahramiat and in the framework of pre-marriage familiarization will sometimes not become formal until two years after the sigheh is agreed (Ahmady 2019). This is why participants in our survey did not mention any special reason for this prolonged duration of sigheh mahramiat, stating only that it was being practiced to fulfill family commitments

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and put the marriage on an official footing. As mentioned, the data collected indicate that religious legitimacy is much more important than legal compliance. This shows the significance of religion as a means of justifying a tradition and as a tool for ensuring its continuity. In Iran, some traditional families do not allow their children to give their opinions about whom they should marry (Montazeri 2016). The parents consider themselves the right people to choose a spouse for their child and to control their sexual behavior (Montazeri 2016).

Age Acts as a Determinant of Marriage Success

Among the various dependent variables of marriage, analyzed by social and economic experts, age at first sexual relationship is considered an important indicator for evaluating the quality of physical and mental health (Kearney 2012).

To some extent, the age of marriage set by each society is a way of organizing family life; it also demonstrates the opportunities for men and women at the time of marriage. According to Pournaghi (2015), putting marriage off until a later age can have serious consequences for the young, triggering, for example, irresponsibility, a tendency to indulge in undesirable or risky relationships, a waste of youth and vitality, tensions in life caused by the non-fulfillment of personal needs, parental concerns, depression, sexual disorders, taking refuge in drugs, etc.

Pournaghi (2015). However, early child marriage (ECM) can also have unwanted consequences (Ahmady 2017). Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a person is a child until the age of 18 (CRC 2015). The United Nations Population Fund has asserted that any marriage under the age of 18, before boys and girls are mentally and physically ready to undertake nuptial and child-care duties, is a child marriage (UNFPA 2020). However, in some countries, the age of marriage varies based on legal regulations and social and cultural norms. Poverty, low education level and illiteracy, lack of legal support, social pressures, male expectations, and the stranglehold of tradition and religious beliefs are some of the contributory factors promoting ECM (Ahmady 2017).

Parents who cannot afford to pay large dowries when marrying their daughters, they marry them to an older, disabled or sick man who will settle for a low dowry (Kalantari 2014). Mainly driven by poverty, the practice prevails and fuels by the desire for large families, son preference, and the need for parents to reduce the number of children to feed (UNFPA 2020). Men will accept a lower dowry for a younger girl, and moreover, the family benefits financially from the marriage of a girl child, known as bride price (Dalton 1966), which can feed the rest of the family. Women who marry older men at a young age risk early widowhood and domestic violence (UNSD 2015). Child marriages produce child widows who are categorically vulnerable children who lost their childhood and rights simultaneously.

High divorce rates, child widowhood, increased number of orphans, children themselves poorly prepared for parenthood, sexual abuse of girls, chronic cycle of poverty and prostitution and a rise in mental, physical and sexual diseases among women are among the sad litany of outcomes of early marriage (Ahmady 2017). Early

52 K. Ahmady marriage is problematic as far as both sexes are concerned, but the phenomenon harms

girls more than boys (Kearney 2012).

Temporary Marriage: An Approved Way of Facilitating Child Marriage in Iran

Recent social changes in Iran have changed not only people’s behaviors but their values too (Bayat 2013). A new social trend is pre-marital sex. Several studies indicate that pre-marital sex has increased among teenagers and young people in recent years. There are different types of pre-marital sex in Iran: free relations (prostitution), sigheh relations, boyfriend/girlfriend relations, cohabitation or white (unconsummated) marriage, and homosexual relations.

A relationship within the sigheh framework as a non-romantic, pre-marital rela- tionship is accepted by both the official religion and law of Iran (Golestaneh 2019). Early marriage and the possible sexual intercourse that follows are two of the social and psychological consequences of sigheh mahramiat that mainly affect women (Shakib 2017). The main core of the sigheh discourse is the coexistence of sexual desires and religion in parallel with rapid social changes. Studies show that sigheh relationships exist to a greater extent among individuals with strong religious beliefs, who seek a religious solution to satisfy their sexual instincts (Parishi 2009). Based on the Civil Code of Iran, articles 1075 to 1077, a marriage can be discontinued when it has run its agreed specific duration and with a specific maher (an obligation, in the form of money or possessions paid by the groom, to the bride at the time of Islamic marriage settlement) (RDC 2013).

And this is when sigheh enters the dangerous fraught territory of ECM. Even the most optimistic of the Sunnis and the ardent supporters of sigheh find it hard to acquiesce to the deplorable state of ECM.

Sigheh mahramiat allows a virgin (young girl) to enter into a courtship with a man who is her husband (Montazeri 2016). Although not officially registered, this ECM is religiously approved. In religious families, such sigheh is practiced generally for boys and girls so that they can become acquainted with one another other during their engagement period (Kalantari 2014). The eminent Shi’ite cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, considers sigheh mahramiat to be a sort of temporary marriage (Sistani n.d.). If the girl loses her virginity, there will be no legal consequences, as the law does not account for this. Nevertheless, the consequences of such types of sigheh, where young girls naturally lose their virginity, impose a heavy social pressures on the girls themselves (Yari Nasab et al. 2015).

Sigheh mahramiat marriage with young girls, even if not intended for sexual pleasure and practiced only to avoid sin while interacting, is still accompanied by social pressure (Ahmady 2017). If the man is loyal to his wife or if the girl’s age is marriage-appropriate, the marriage will be legally valid. However, if the girl’s age is lower than stipulated by law, a judge will issue the final verdict (based on

3 The Role of Temporary Marriage (TM) in Promoting Early … 53

the young girl’s competence for marriage) (Niechciał 2009). In such situations, the application for marriage can be unsuccessful, and the couple will not be able to take advantage of social and family benefits (RDC 2013). Establishing legal mechanisms for determining the exact minimum age for temporary marriage, increasing the age for girls to 15, as well as making it mandatory for the newlyweds to register in official marriage registry offices with valid identification documents, are all considered key to minimizing the harm from child marriage (Nandi 2015) the suppressive/repressive role of religion and the dominance of culture in temporary marriages of children and teenagers.

Although religious and worship rituals are not always performed, Iranian society is still considered a traditional religious society because of religious upbringing and socialization through schools and the media (Shavarini 2006). Based on the Shia reli- gion and the Civil Code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, even if there is no parental consent but a court order gives consent, girls aged 13 and younger are legally allowed to marry (Sistani n.d.). This type of marriage, however, is not accepted by everybody, for instance, by social activists and international human rights entities (Merry 2009). Child marriages are commonest among religious and traditional families or vulner- able families, due to their lack of financial resources, poor parenting skills, problems with addiction, etc. (Mikhail 2002). Families can force their decision on their chil- dren, who not only may be completely unprepared for what a marriage entails, but are also given no other choice but to comply with their parents’ wishes (Ahmadi 2016).

As already mentioned, controlling the sexual behavior of children is an important reason for practicing sigheh mahramiat and child marriage at a young age. Chil- dren’s consent is irrelevant, as the majority of children, particularly girls, entering such a marriage are forced into it (Ahmadi 2016). Young girls are obliged to leave their childhood behind and become women, which results in numerous spiritual, psychological, and social losses (Shakib 2017). A high rate of divorce at a young age is one of the consequences of child marriage. Another is the way it denies the minimum education to a child. In traditional societies, if young girls marry at a young age, they are forced to discontinue their education, which prevents them from developing their skills and acquiring the necessary qualifications to enter the labor market (UNICEF 2020). In other words, cultural factors like being deprived of basic education prevent children’s talents and skills from blossoming. This causes a vicious circle, with uneducated and unprivileged girls giving birth to girls who follow the same path. The factors are transmitted from a generation to another one, under the title of “culture of poverty,” perpetuating poverty among a special social class (UNICEF 2020).

Temporary marriage and sigheh mahramiat are among the religious beliefs of Shia Muslims. Unlike Sunnis, Shia Muslims consider temporary marriage to be a religious, traditional, and legitimate act that will be rewarded in the afterlife (Ghodsi 1993) (Fig. 3.1).

Based on Shia Hadiths (in Islam, a record of the words, actions, and the silent approval of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) and narrations, mut’ah is among the traditions that should be practiced to prevent corruption in society (Ahmady 2019).

Picture1 3

High Average Low

Family Fidelity

Low Average High



Fig. 3.1 Distribution of families practicing sigheh mahramiat, according to level of religious fidelity or background

Mut’ah addresses the needs of men who are unable to practice permanent marriage due to their poor economic status. Based on Shia jurisprudence, temporary marriage and sigheh mahramiat are legally permissible. The majority of religious sources and scholars in the Islamic Republic of Iran also unanimously believe in, and recommend, both the sigheh mahramiat and temporary marriage soon after puberty (Ahmady 2019). However, some jurisprudents, such as Ayatollah Sanai, argue that muta’h was only applicable during war time in early Islam and that it is a cause of family degradation in a modern society. To conclude, people practice temporary marriage according to their economic, sexual, and emotional needs, without any guilt being attached to the practice; they consider it legitimate because it is permitted by their religion.

The data gathered for this study showed that 22.05% of the families, who believe in sigheh mahramiat, have strong religious beliefs; of those, 73.52% have moderate religious beliefs, and only 4.41% are not particularly religious. The families with strong and moderate beliefs justified sigheh mahramiat on religious grounds. But the families, who were not particularly religious, considered this type of marriage as a tool for monitoring the sexual behavior of their children in conformity with traditional societal norms and the prevailing male-dominated culture.

Regarding the attitudes of religious scholars, sigheh mahramiat is the same as temporary marriage which is practiced among children and teenagers (the sigheh is practiced among older people as well, but in the present study, the sample includes people under the age of 18). As previously explained, religious traditional families practice sigheh mahramiat to offset social pressure exerted by their peers and control children’s sexual behavior at the beginning of puberty. However, this practice usually has the opposite effect: Children have sex earlier than anticipated, and child marriage then becomes a practice. Thus, although religion provides the moral grounds and justifi- cation for this practice, ultimately, there are cultural factors that compel families to arrange TM for their children.

A married woman, living in Mashhad, experienced sigheh mahramiat at the age of 11. She shared with researchers

We didn’t have a problem but the adults made us quarrel. When I came to my house, I didn’t listen to my husband because I was too young. I behaved better later after listening to the advice of my family.

Child marriage is also referred to as early or forced marriage, as the consent of the children involved is not required or taken into account. Family lifestyle and


Picture2 2

3 The Role of Temporary Marriage (TM) in Promoting Early … 55


Family Background

with experience No experience

Distribution of frequency percentage of family background of participants in temporary

socialization are instrumental in whether a family embraces sigheh mahramiat and temporary marriage. Families who have already sigheh mahramiat and temporary marriage pass them on to future generations, and in this way, these practices have gradually turned into acceptable social behavior (Fig. 3.2).

In this study, 61.18% of participants were families whose members had not performed sigheh mahramiat, while 31.81% were families in which this type of marriage was common. In religious families, sigheh mahramiat is widespread among teenagers. It is arranged by the parents, and the children have to obey even if they disagree. Furthermore, based on the social learning theory, family members learn family norms. Thus, if they see other members of the family practicing temporary marriage, they learn it as an accepted norm and find it easy to do when an opportunity presents itself.

The Effects of Temporary Marriage on Children

The main rationale for a temporary marriage is pleasure-seeking. Further, it facilitates and encourages child marriage which, in turn, negatively affects women and makes men skeptical about permanent marriage (Ahmady 2019). As mentioned previously, in this study, we tried to shed light on temporary marriage and to present a detailed and clear image of this social phenomenon and its nexus with facilitating the narrative of child marriages. The chapter demonstrates how religion enables child marriages and contributes to the violation of women’s rights in Iran. During the field research,

Fig. 3.2



56 K. Ahmady

a 22 year old woman living in Mashhad, married, practiced sigheh with her husband at the age of 11. She asked

What does one know at this age? One day I came back home from school, they told me you have to marry this guy. I didn’t go to school anymore. I think you should get more mature. When you are a child the man bullies you. You have to obey whatever he says.

As some children marry in the form of TM, child marriage directly contributes to frequent school dropout, especially among girls (Ahmady 2019). Legal gaps and the opportunities that arise as a result of abuse and pleasure-seeking by those who could be easily called the “pleasure-dealers” have prompted the opponents of temporary marriage to come up with the term “legitimate cover” (Ahmady 2019).

TM is used in the hope that it will lead to a permanent marriage; however, this strict religiously inspired conduct can be quite damaging when no legal framework is in place to protect the rights of those involved (Ghodsi 1993). Some families perform mut’ah for adolescent boys and girls. Families with a limited social circle consider mut’ah the only way to stop their children from having intercourse (Badran et al. 2009). These families opt for mut’ah when their children are under age. It is not uncommon for young boys and girls who go through mut’ah to end up being normally married after a while. Therefore, in a religious framework, mut’ah facilitates child marriage (Ahmady 2019). At such a young age, the adolescents have no intellectual and social maturity, as well as no economic resources and need to be controlled by their family.

Further, early marriage not only restricts girls’ educational and economic opportu- nities, it also has a negative impact on their physical and reproductive health (Parsons et al. 2015). Moreover, if a woman has intercourse while in a TM, and the TM does not lead to a permanent marriage, she will suffer emotionally and psychologically due to the affection she may have developed for her husband during the period of TM (Ghodsi 1993). In addition to that, if the TM has not been legally registered, she cannot take any action to avail herself of her basic rights (Golestaneh 2019). But the sigheh which is applied to children and adolescents to make them mahram and prevent sinful acts has different consequences.

The relationship between young boys and girls in puberty means that they will most probably have intercourse when they are not psychologically ready (Kar et al. 2015). In other words, this type of relation- ship leads to increased sexual contact during childhood and adolescence. If the male partner agrees to a permanent marriage, then their union is automatically turned into what we call child marriage (Ahmady 2017). Children, and particularly girls, who married at a young age usually end up dropping out from school, while experiencing physical and sexual traumas and feeling emotionally vulnerable (Parsons et al. 2015).

In addition to that, given the age gap between them and their husbands, these girls often end up as child windows. Moreover, once the TM expires and the male partner refrains from a permanent marriage, the consequences are even direr which drains women and girls emotionally as well as stigmatizing them socially (Ahmady 2019) Taking a critical approach to certain religious traditions and customs is still a taboo for many. But when some of these traditions lead to psychological and social harms

3 The Role of Temporary Marriage (TM) in Promoting Early … 57

for the individual and society, they need to be revisited and adjusted so that they fall under the scrutiny of the law (Parishi 2009).

Often, following a young girl’s departure from her parental home, she can, under the pretext of marriage, be sold into the sex trade or sold on to another husband, as in the case of so-called fake or temporary child marriages (Parishi 2009). Men may engage in several unions, marrying a girl for a limited time until she conceives a child (hopefully a boy, if the previous or present regular marriage has failed to produce one). Following the end of the marriage, these young girls, along with their child, if unwanted, are abandoned (Montazeri 2016). Once girls are abandoned, they are unmarriageable and forced to continue a life of social exclusion. Child marriage thus turns into human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, or, in short, enslavement of a girl for the purposes of indiscriminate exploitation (Matter 2001).

Further, sigheh mahramiat is considered the main reason for an increase in the female school dropout (Parsons et al. 2015). After sigheh mahramiat, 17.64% of the participants continued their education, while 69.11% abandoned their educa- tion, resigning themselves to the role of wife and a mother. The conflict and the overlapping roles for which a girl is not prepared limit her chances of pursuing an education. It should be mentioned that two major factors contribute to child marriage: the prevailing cultural norms and economic poverty (ICRW et al. 2018). To redress the problems caused by child marriage, lawmakers have to adopt policies aimed at protecting children and supporting families with economic problems, who may resort to a marriage in exchange for money (UNFPA 2012). Some of the policies that will also protect children include making education compulsory, legally registering sigheh mahramiat, and specifying an age limit for the sigheh. Furthermore, educa- tion, alongside social and economic empowerment of students and their families, should be considered among major policies of the country (ICRW et al. 2018).


International Perspective

Some sociologists believe that although the United Nations define a human being below the age of 18 as a child and thus condemn marriages under this age (Conven- tion on the Rights of the Child 1989), it fails to take into consideration cultural and deep-rooted traditions (Horii 2019). Almost the majority of the one billion Muslims of the world consider that at 15 years children have entered puberty and thus adult- hood. Taking into consideration the Islamic standpoint regarding sex which bans any sexual relations out of marriage, establishing the age of 18 as the minimum age of marriage does not seem realistic for Muslims in Middle Eastern countries. The age of mut’ah or sigheh is specified to be 13 for girls and 15 for boys both legally and religiously (Sciolino 2000). However, young people can marry even earlier, provided they obtain their parents’ permission or a court order. Sigheh mahramiat is normally

58 K. Ahmady

practiced among teenagers under the legal age of marriage, something that their families have already agreed upon and planned. It is notable that sigheh mahramiat mostly occurs as endogamy, which means it is mainly practiced among the members of a specific group (Manijeh 2011). Generally, traditional families practice sigheh mahramiat for their children at a young age as endogamous marriage, based on male traditional values and the customs of their ancestors (Haeri 2014; Akbar Aghaja- nian et al. 2018). Endogamy is the result of old traditional family beliefs. Families struggling with poverty also practice sigheh mahramiat in the hope that that their children will be soon permanently married, decreasing the economic burden on the family (Haeri 2014). Interviews in this field of study revealed that people having experienced sigheh mahramiat in childhood often married and had children at a young age (Ahmady 2019). Totally unprepared for the responsibilities of a family, they developed psychological problems.

Child marriages occur on a global scale, but official figures vary even inside a country and also among various communities. Nevertheless, based on the existing statistics, early marriage is mainly practiced in the rural areas of South Africa and South Asia (UNICEF 2017). According to a UNICEF (2018) press release, because of the global attention paid to this topic, the number of early marriages is decreasing; however, a significant number of children still marry at a lower age than stipulated by law. Iran is a clear example in this regard.

From a sexual and human rights standpoint, early marriage is the tangible outcome of sexual suppression in a society and of long-standing harmful traditions that fuel gender inequality and consequently encourage further suppression. In developing countries, the number of early marriages is increasing because of the growing popu- lation of young people. The problem is caused by extreme poverty, lack of information and education, a prevailing patriarchy, and cultural beliefs that make people believe that they are saving their girls by marrying them early.

Iranian Perspective

Unfortunately, because of the physical consequences and the constant discrimination against young girls, very little has been done to prevent child marriage in Iran. According to the religious structure dominating Iran, puberty and the first menstrual cycle for girls are considered as the launch into adulthood (Haeri 2014). Reaching this physical biological stage is interpreted as a readiness and expediency for getting married. Early marriage is a term applied to both young boys and girls; but compared to boys, young girls are far more affected (Ghodsi 1993). As per the findings of the Save the Children UK (2003), in many communities where child marriage is practiced, girls are not valued as much as boys, but seen as a burden on their family. Marrying your daughter off at a young age can be viewed as a way to ease economic hardship by transferring this “burden” to her husband’s family (Ahmady 2019). However, owing to the absence of independent reliable studies on child marriage in Iran, there is little information available in this regard. Nevertheless, official statistics

3 The Role of Temporary Marriage (TM) in Promoting Early … 59

of Iran show that tens of thousands of boys and girls under the age of 18 are annually forced into marriage by their families (Shakib 2017). In fact, the real number of children forced to marry is much higher than officially stated, as some families choose not to register, to but perform an illegal marriage when very young children are involved (Shakib 2017).

UNICEF (2016) has reported that during 2008–2014, the rate of child marriage in Iran was 3% for those under 15 and 17% for the under 18s. As indicated in Table 2, however, and based on Iran Civil Registration Organization data, the figures for marriage of children under the age of 15 decreased during the period between 2012 and the first nine months of 2016. It is worth mentioning that the percentage of girls under the age of 15 marrying men aged 30 and even older has increased, despite the decline in marriage figures in recent years (Center for Human Rights in Iran 2015).

Based on data collected for the needs of the current study, the religious traditional values associated with the sigheh mahramiat are an important reason for underage marriages, as there is no age limit set for performing sigheh. A different practice, associated with the sigheh, is naaf bor, whereby two babies are pronounced spouses soon after their umbilical cords are cut. There are thus no specific requirements for such a marriage, and it is mainly practiced in the context of endogamy in religious traditional families, emphasizing its legitimacy.

Many experts believe that early marriage, caused by sigheh mahramiat, nega- tively affects children’s health, impedes their individual growth, and obstructs their further development (Chandra-Mouli et al. 2013). In some countries and cultures, early marriage is considered an economic tool, which can improve the economic status of the family and strengthen family ties (ICRW et al. 2018). Moreover, by controlling sexual desire, early marriage can guarantee the virginity of the girls and prevent them from reaching an age when they become less sexually attractive for their future husband (Sedghi 2007).

On the other hand, issues, such as out-of-the wedlock pregnancy and childbirth, are among the leading causes of death for girls at the age between 15 and 19 (Mayor 2004). To conclude the findings, the most impor- tant consequences of early marriage and sigheh mahramiat when performed at a young age include: high divorce rate and child widowhood, discontinued education, suicide, especially among girls, physical, sexual, and spiritual traumas, and poverty.

The parliament and government of Iran thus need to regulate this major social issue by adopting the necessary laws to guarantee 18 as the minimum age at which sigheh mahramiat can be performed. Violating this law should be considered a crime.

Religion highly influences Iranians’ decisions and actions. Iranian law is based on Twelver jurisprudence (ACCORD 2015). Therefore, legal support for a cause is not feasible without religious endorsement. As a result, in order to reverse the way sigheh mahramiat is currently performed, a first step would be for the clergymen at the Guardian Council to announce that sigheh mahramiat under the age of 18 is illegitimate and to forbid it (make it haram), while Sharia jurisprudence should issue decisions that are compatible with the applicable legal framework. In this way, they can take a vital step toward annulment of early marriage.

Furthermore, mosques should also take an active role in promoting sigheh mahramiat over the age of 18 and banning it when minors are affected. Additionally,

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explaining the harms of sigheh mahramiat and early marriage in mosques could play an instrumental role in invalidating sigheh mahramiat and child marriage.

A further step involves making the registration of sigheh mahramiat in one of the offices of the Civil Registration Organization mandatory. The Organization is in charge of providing information regarding birth, death and marriage registration and issuing identity documents like an ID certificate. As sigheh mahramiat facilitates and enables child marriage, mandatory registration can be highly effective. The Civil Registration Organization works under the supervision of the Ministry of Interior and the Executive body, and it is best situated for overseeing governmental policies related to combatting performing sigheh mahramiat at a young age.

The role education can play as a tool for advocating a higher legal permissible age for sigheh mahramiat and combating early marriage is indisputable (Ahmady 2019). Therefore, mandatory and a free-of-charge educational system should be available all over the country. Taking into consideration that the individuals married through sigheh mahramiat are still school students, one can easily comprehend the central role that education plays in this regard. On the other hand, dissemination of information regarding sigheh mahramiat and early marriage can be done through specifically designed family education classes, which have been held in Iran’s educational system in recent years.

Although the classes are far from being perfect, they can be a means of informing parents on the negative consequences of this type of marriage and prevent them from practicing it. Other useful courses include sex education, knowing one’s body, promoting kinship, as well as entrepreneurship courses for students, and courses on the development of social qualities, equality, and overcoming violence among students. To ensure the elimination of these practices, students should gain self-confidence and reject sigheh mahramiat and early marriage, and appreciate that early marriage damages their chances of receiving a good education. The education system should also teach students to respect the rights of others. Students should be further taught social skills in order to address gender inequality.

The media also have an important role to play, as they shape our understanding of fashion, style, and life values. Accordingly, media should contribute toward increasing awareness in society. Media sources can disseminate information on sigheh mahramiat, present the legal questions pertaining to this tradition, discuss its consequences for gender relations, as well as explain the psychological and social ramifications of such practices. Mass media can cooperate with social activists and together they can devise strategies to inform the public about these harmful tradi- tions and encourage them to take action against them. Social networks, nowadays, are more effective compared to other communicational tools owing to the popularity of smart phones and Internet access. Therefore, these platforms can be used to dissem- inate information prepare educational programs, involve experts and employ social, religious, and national figures like athletes, artists, etc., who can easily sway public opinion.

NGOs with a non-commercial, non-political and voluntary character can also be of use, as they work toward supporting the most vulnerable groups of the society. Based on reports and statistics from the Iranian Statistical Center, 30% of Iran’s population are under the age of 18 (Ahmady 2019). Delivering justice, providing

3 The Role of Temporary Marriage (TM) in Promoting Early … 61

a fair social welfare system, alongside training and improved living standards, are all equally important in combating early marriage. Similarly, the active presence of NGOs in different rural and urban areas of the country can significantly contribute to the social and economic empowerment of the children. These organizations can take a step toward implementing much needed cultural work and teach life skills to children and their parents, so that they can all respect children’s rights and appreciate why sigheh mahramiat under the age of 18 should be prohibited.

Against this background, the following recommendations are worth considering:

  1. Given that marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights, a law must be introduced and ratified that clearly stipulates the 18th year as the legally permissible age for marriage for both boys and girls, whether through a conventional marriage or sigheh mahramiat. Sigheh mahramiat under the age of 18 should be considered a crime.
  2. There should be more investment in promoting advocacy for women as commu- nity leaders. In many rural communities, child marriage is widespread because women are often kept out of the decision-making processes and are not allowed a voice in local politics. To limit and eliminate harmful traditions, such as child marriage or temporary marriages, women need to be able to voice their concerns and advocate for their rights in all spheres. To this end, there needs to be imple- mentation of cultural and social education, especially in rural communities and in impoverished areas using local capacities, NGOs, and local religious leaders.
  3. Religious leaders should be actively involved in endorsing a minimum age acceptable for sigheh mahramiat through the issuance of mandatory verdicts and promotion of fatwas in religious ceremonies at the mosques. It is also imperative to work with religious leaders to build their capacity to communicate accurate information to communities on temporary and child marriages (Walker 2015) and also cooperate with local clerics to develop their understanding of the importance of education for all in Islam.
  4. There should be registration of all sigheh mahramiat in official marriage registry offices.
  5. Education must thus be made compulsory and free of charge up to the high school diploma level. Research demonstrates how women can benefit from the system when they are given the opportunities to overcome the unequal power distribution vis-à-vis men. Yet, women are still disadvantaged, a weakness rooted in their lack of social standing and education.
  6. Information regarding the destructive psychological consequences that sigheh mahramiat has on children should be included in tailor-made programs from the government and NGOs and disseminated through public national and social media.
  7. Community leaders, religious leaders, teachers, and doctors, etc., should be mobi- lized and their capacity built to become champions of promoting girls’ education and demonstrating the benefits of delaying marriage.
  8. Child rights activists and NGOs should develop activities aimed at promoting the empowerment of children and their families in various urban and rural areas.

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Outreach is needed to new stakeholders, especially those working in rural areas and young gender activists who are able to convey messages at the local level.


This chapter explains the role of temporary marriage in promoting early marriage. Research into early marriage has tended to concentrate mostly on its human rights violation aspects and the way it affects women and gender relations. There has been little research carried out into also seeing it as a violation of the rights of the child. As a result, this chapter also explored the repercussions of early marriage on young children.

Child marriages have decreased worldwide during the past 20 years and are increasingly being recognized as a human rights violation. However, they are still prevalent in most parts of the world including Iran. The elimination of child marriage is vital, as it is intricately linked to issues related to the rights of children and young people. It requires partnership and collaboration across sectors such as education, health, and justice and must include young girls and boys, their families, communi- ties, religious and traditional leaders, governments, and other stakeholders to move toward eradication of this menace.

Non-registration of TM is one of the prominent contributory factors to the increasing trend of child marriages in Iran. Tracking such marriages is not easy, as they are not officially registered. This is no doubt that the registration of tempo- rary marriages would not only highlight the ratio of the ECM prevalence in Iran, but it would also contribute to the prevention of sex trafficking and child prostitution (Matter 2001).

Changing attitudes is the strategy that underpins all other efforts to end early marriage. Real change can only be ensured if we introduce and promote initiatives to change attitudes toward the gender roles of girls and boys in general and toward the practice of early marriage in particular. This calls for amendments in traditional gender roles in societies. Social awakening is a prerequisite to bring a change in communities in order to eradicate child marriages once and for all.


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