1,600 Iranian girls under 15 years old married in the last Iranian calendar year
(ending March 20, 2019) in the western province of Hamadan.
Furthermore, the local director of the registry office, Assad Hassanzadeh, disclosed that at least 44 girls under 15 years of age gave birth in the same period.
Iran signed the UN Convention on the Right of the Child in 1991 and ratified it three years later. Nevertheless, according to article 1041 of the country's Civil Law, there is no minimum age for marriage in Iran.
The so-called "Sharia courts" can permit girls aged under fifteen to marry, provided the marriage is registered. However, in many cases, parents do not wait for a court ruling to give away their daughters, postponing the registration until years later.
Meanwhile, there is no limitation on the age difference of the child bride and the groom.
Figures from Iran suggest child-marriage is rampant in the country, with girls younger than 14 forced to take husbands. The practice is most prevalent in rural areas.
Almost 1,600 cases of child marriage have been registered in the province of Hamadan in western Iran, a local-judiciary authority revealed last May.
Saeed Golestani, the area's crime-prevention deputy, said the coercion of girls to marry early was encouraged to anchor boys to their hometowns.
"Villagers of Hamadan," he said, "believe that when the boys come of age, they leave their places of birth in search of a job and become reluctant to marry their fellow villagers."
Last April, the governor-general's office of the province of Zanjan estimated that 36,000 underage girls were forced into marriages across Iran, though only Zanjan, Hamadan and Khorasan have released the related figures.
There are no signs that the phenomenon is on the decline.
A bill to stop child marriages was recently blocked in the Majlis (Iran's parliament) by legislators who included women.
The story of Raha, an 11-year-old girl forced to marry a 50-year-old man led to a heated debate last February. The man already had a wife and seven children. He paid around $1,500 to Raha's parents to marry her.
After intense public outcry, the government intervened and transferred Raha to a care center.
The ultra-conservative ayatollahs insist that a girl can be allowed to marry once she reaches puberty. This sometimes is determined to be as young as nine years old. Some dissenting clerics condemn child marriage as "illegitimate and against religious principles."
A Grand Ayatollah whose senior status is not recognized by the ruling clerics, Assadollah Bayat Zanjani, told ILNA news website last February, "Since marrying underage children is unfair, it is illegitimate, against religious principles, and therefore harmful to the religion."
But a 100-year-old ultra-conservative clergy official, Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, retaliated, "Setting a legal age for girls to marry is against religious regulations, since only fathers have the right to decide when to give away their daughters, regardless of their age."
"Official" grand ayatollahs in Iran are the clerics who support Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They are regularly promoted by the monopolized state-run media and financially supported by the ruling establishment of the country.
In contrast, "unofficial" grand ayatollahs are supported by their followers and their cash donations.
Although little data is available on child marriage in Iran, UNICEF estimates that approximately 17 percent of Iranian girls are married before the age of 18.
However, the numbers may be even higher, as many families do not register underage marriages.
According to Iran's Association of Children's Rights, the number of girls married under the age of 15 jumped from 33,383 in 2006 to 43,459 in 2009, showing a 30 percent increase over three years. The reasons cited were deepening poverty and the apparent desire of parents to rein in their daughters' sexuality.