United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child






Iran (Islamic Republic of) 

5 Sep 1991 

13 Jul 1994 






Legal Rights of Children in Iran

Lily Pourzand 




Children are the most vulnerable among social groups. Observing their human rights is a great responsibility of governments and legislatures. On September 5, 1991, a representative from the Islamic Republic of Iran signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and its provisions were approved, with conditions, by Iran’s Parliament in March 1994. These conditions stated that if any provisions of the Convention contradict Iran’s internal and Islamic laws, the latter would override the Convention. This conditional acceptance of the Convention has allowed repeated violations of children’s rights and has prevented the existing legal system from protecting these rights.


This article will show a few examples of how laws in Iran, which fail to conform to international standards, violate the rights of children. Readers should be reminded that these examples are only “needles” in the huge “haystack” of violations that internal laws inflict on the rights of Iranian children. Iran’s failure to protect children’s rights is not simply a legal problem; it also has social, economic, and cultural dimensions. However, inadequate and unsympathetic laws contribute to undermining the rights of children. Consequently, it is crucial to deal with the legislative shortcomings governing these rights.


The Age of Majority


The age of majority may constitute the most important aspect of children’s rights in Iranian law. This is the age that a child leaves behind the years of not being responsible for his actions and enters into adulthood, becoming accountable in the eyes of the law. Based on the Article 1210 of the Civil Law as amended in 1962, “the age of majority for boys is 15 lunar years and for girls 9 lunar years.” Meanwhile, the first article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” As we can see, the first article of the Convention sets up a contrast between an international standard and Article 1210 of Iran’s Civil Law, especially in regards to the age of majority for girls. Legal experts and child psychologists acknowledge that the age of majority has an undeniable importance in the life of children and adult responsibility too early in life can result in damaging and irreversible consequences. Legislators bear the responsibility of determining this crucial turning point. Iranian children, especially girls, suffer from oversights in the Islamic Republic’s legal system, as some examples below demonstrate.




In 1931, the first law regarding marriage was passed. It was silent on the legal age for getting married. Article 3 of this law indicated that marrying someone who is not “physically developed” is forbidden and anyone who marries such a person will be condemned to one to three years imprisonment in a correctional facility. In 1934, the second chapter of the second volume of the Civil Law described the physical preconditions for marriage. For the first time, in Article 1040, the legislators determined the age for marriage; “Marriage is forbidden for girls under age 15 and for boys under age 18. However, under certain circumstances, with the permission of the public defendant and with the court’s approval, exemptions may be allowed, but never to girls under 13 or to boys less than 15 years of age.”


In 1974, when the Family Protection Law of 1967 was being revised, the age for marriage was one of the issues that was reviewed. Here, Article 23 of the Family Protection Law was revised to change this age for girls from 15 to 18 and for boys from 18 to 20. This new and special piece of legislation abolished Article 1041 of the Civil Law of 1934. After the Islamic Revolution of 1978, the Family Protection Law lost its legal standing. In 1982, the Islamic Republic’s legislators amended the Civil Law, including Article 1041 that addresses the legal age for marriage, and amended this section as follows: “Marriage is forbidden before the age of majority.” The notes attached to this Article state that “Marriage is allowed for those under the age of majority with their guardians’ permission, if the best interests of the subject are considered.”


This article does not codify a legal age for marriage, instead, it refers to the “age of majority.” Consequently, the legal age for marriage was reduced to (in solar years) 8 years and 9 months for girls and 14 years and 7 months for boys. In 2001, after 19 years of pleas by human rights defenders, especially those involved with children’s rights in Iran, and with the support of international bodies, Article 1041 of the Civil Law was changed by the Expediency Council to the following: “Marriage for girls before attaining age 13 and for boys before attaining age 15 is only allowed by the guardian’s permission, with the interests of the subject in mind and by the ruling of a competent court.” So after many years, the legal age for Iranian girls for entering into marriage was raised to what is still a young age of 13.


Even though the legal age is defined in this law, it still awards absolute power to the guardians of Iranian children to allow marriage of their minor children, “having their best interest in mind.” Based on Article 1180 of the Civil Law and, according to Islamic principles, the father and the grandfather are “automatic guardians” of the child. One of the legal rights awarded to these automatic guardians is making decisions about the marriage of their minor child or grandchild. The law provides that such a marriage is legal if the best interests of the child are considered by his or her guardian. However, once this under-aged child married by his or her guardian reaches the legal age, is he or she allowed to nullify the marriage? Most Muslim lawyers and faqihs [expert in Islamic jurisprudence] have responded “no” to this question, arguing that a marriage, entered legally, cannot be nullified later. Even in rare cases where some legal grounds exist to nullify marriages of these under-aged victims, a 13 year-old girl or a 15 year-old boy would rarely dare to confront a father and rebel against him because it goes against traditional and cultural norms.


Consequently, Iranian children can not only be subject to forced marriages at the early ages of 13 or 15, but their fathers and grandfathers have full and legal authority to arrange their marriage to whomever they want, as they “have their best interest in mind.” In the judiciary system of Iran, there is no legal mechanism to determine what is in the best interest of children and therefore no legal retribution for those who do not act with those interests in mind.


Accepting Legal Responsibility


Based on Article 49 of the Islamic Penal Law and its notes, children are excused from any punitive responsibility if they commit a crime and, by court decision, can be placed under the supervision of a guardian or in a correctional center for children. Note 1 defines a child as “someone who has not attained the age of majority in religious terms.” Note 2 states that if physical punishment is determined to be necessary for guilty children, those punishments must be just and executed with good intentions.


As mentioned earlier, Article 1210 of the Civil Law sets the age of majority for girls at 9 lunar years and for boys at 15 lunar years. Therefore, 9 year-old girls and fifteen-year old boys, who are considered adults in the religious sense term by Islamic legislators, can be punished like adults if they commit a crime, and can even be subject to physical punishment. The Islamic Penal Law allows severe physical punishments such as whipping, cutting parts of the body, stoning and execution for those found guilty of a crime. Since 9 and 15 year-old children are considered adults and, as such, held responsible for their acts with possible severe physical punishments if they commit crimes, they will be subject to the full force of the law and will not receive reduced punishments. Adolescents are treated as adults in the eye of the law and if caught committing a crime, face severe punishments.


Corrective Measures


The Civil Law of Iran allows parents to punish their children. Article 179 of this law states: “Parents are allowed to punish their child, but this right does not give them authority to go beyond the normal scope.” The emphasis of the legislator on not going over the “normal” limits in these punishments does not preclude the parents’ cruelty against the child. In the absence of definite and specific criteria, the child’s legal protection is compromised and subject to the opinions and interpretations of those involved with such decisions in the courts.


This open-ended right of a parent to punish his child puts children in great danger. Article 220 of the Islamic Penal Law openly states: “A father or a grandfather killing his child will not face the death penalty, but has to pay blood money to the heirs of the deceased and be subjected to a reduced beating sentence.” As we can see, the law is tolerant of parents, specifically fathers and grandfathers, punishing children; even the act of killing a child does not render the maximum legal punishment (death penalty). This article fails to comply with international standards of human rights to which the Iranian government is bound and jeopardizes children’s lives and safety inside their families. 




Iranian children, like other Iranian citizens, can inherit from their family members according to laws which define terms of inheritance. The gender of the child plays an important role in this process. According to the laws of the Islamic Republic, a female child’s share of an inheritance is half of the share of a male child. As Article 907 of the Civil Law states: “If the deceased has no parent but one or more children, the estate is divided as follows: if there is only one child, either male or female, the entire estate goes to him or her. If there is more than one child and all male or all female, the estate is divided evenly among them. If there is more than one child with different genders, the male children inherit twice as much as the female children.” Hence, the financial status of Iranian girls can be adversely affected by gender discrimination before they reach adulthood.


Blood Money


Gender discrimination in financial matters is not limited to inheritance. Even an unborn Iranian baby is affected by it. Based on the Islamic Penal Law, a murderer must pay diyeh or “blood money” to those survived by the victim. This law states that if someone causes a miscarriage, they must also pay blood money. Article 487, Section 6 of this law, after defining the amount and the manner in which the blood money must be paid based on the stage of the fetus’s development, states that “After the fetus is ‘spirited,’ [according to this law, the fetus receives its spirit two months after conception] the blood money is payable in full for a male fetus, in half for a female fetus, and by one-third if the gender is undeterminable.” Therefore, blood money for a two month-old female fetus is half of that for a male fetus. The Iranian legal system discriminates between the genders of two month-old fetuses.




Some of the most inadequate Iranian laws are those governing citizenship, which has created numerous difficulties for children. In awarding citizenship to a child, only the citizenship of the father matters, not that of the mother. Therefore, if a woman becomes a citizen of Iran, her children are not considered Iranian citizens. If an Iranian woman marries a foreign citizen and gives birth to a child outside Iran, the child cannot acquire Iranian citizenship through the mother.


The lives of many Iranian children have been greatly affected by this law. When they return to Iran with their mothers, they have no legal mechanism through which to acquire Iranian citizenship and no civic rights. They cannot enjoy any social or legal protections and live in a state of constant uncertainty. In order to apply for Iranian citizenship, such children must live in Iran until age 18 and may begin the application process at age 19. As children, they are essentially being punished for not having an Iranian father. They are deprived of educational benefits and other civic rights. If children could become citizens of Iran through their Iranian mothers, this problem would be solved.


Children Born out of Wedlock


Iranian laws fail to protect children born out of wedlock. According to Iranian law, the parents of these “illegitimate” children are defined as “natural” parents as opposed to “legal” parents. Natural parents do not have a legal right to raise their children, according to Iranian law, and can lose custody of them to “legal” guardians.


Article 1167 of the Civil Law states that “A child born out of wedlock cannot be attributed to the adulterer or male violator.” Therefore, children born out of wedlock cannot inherit wealth or property from their parents and their parents do not have any financial responsibility towards them. Also, their civic rights such as citizenship or child support can be compromised. These children are deprived from their full civil, legal, and human rights because their parents engaged in an “illegal” relationship.




This article addresses only a small part of the discrimination imposed on Iranian children through the legal system. Laws governing the lives of children, including homeless children, have created many challenges in our society. The custody of children after divorce and the status of those who lose their fathers present still another set of legal setbacks in the context of children’s rights. The lack of legal authority for Iranian mothers to manage their children’s assets, and the absolute rights given to the fathers and grandfathers to control their children’s destiny and property is another aspect of the inadequacy of the governing laws.


Current law must be changed to conform to international standards of human rights, specifically the rights of children. For years, children’s rights activists, along with international supporters, have worked to achieve small changes. Increasing the legal age for marriage is one of them. Yet a human rights crisis exists in Iran today. Children, women, students, journalists and many other social groups need legal protections to achieve freedom and equality. Any attempt to improve the legal status of any of these and others groups is a step towards fulfilling the goals of humanity and enhancing human rights. It has become the most important struggle of Iranian society at this time in its history.  




 Lily Pourzand is a law school graduate from Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

Ms. Pourzand has been involved in various research projects related to women’s

issues, including at the Center for Gathering and Studying of Iran’s Human Rights Documents, Human Rights Issues in Khatami’s Era, and the Iranian Women’s Conference.


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