Persian-language Twitter users were outraged after a video surfaced online of a child marriage in a small Iranian border town. Shortly after the video appeared, the local authorities nullified the marriage and pressed charges against the groom and the father of the girl.
Iranian journalist Javad Heydarian first posted the video, which quickly went viral. Many of those who shared it quickly apologized and deleted their posts because the young girl’s face was not censored. Still, the image of the 11-year-girl with what can be described as a confused smile sitting next to the 22-year-old man struck a nerve.
Hassan Neghin Taji, prosecutor for Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province, reportedly concluded that the girl had a “low awareness” of her predicament and therefore decided to nullify the marriage.
After the annulment was announced and charges were filed against the father, the groom and the officiant, Iran's Vice President of Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar tweeted, “The response of public opinion and the efforts of officials have yielded results. Reforming culture along with the laws in confronting child marriage is a path that must be taken.”
Under Iranian law, girls under the age of 13 and boys under the age 15 cannot be married without court approval. Children and women’s rights activists have long worked to raise the age of marriage to 16 for girls and 18 for boys.
Iranian Reformist newspapers gave the issue considerable coverage. Ebtekar reported that while child marriage remains relatively rare in the country, such videos could “normalize” the practice. Its headline suggested the girl’s smile could have an “infectious” impact on societal norms. Etemad addressed the controversy over the video, quoting social media users who called both the wedding and the publishing of the girl's face online “violations of children’s rights.”
Conservative Jahan took the opportunity to engage in classic partisan whataboutism. Its headline called those commenting on the issue “noise-makers on the margins” and asked why Reformists have not taken issue with the fact that 11 million young adults in Iran are unmarried and Iran is currently experiencing a decline in birth rates stemming from economic difficulties and rising attendance by women in universities. The Iranian authorities have been encouraging young adults to marry and have children.