The Silent Tragedy of Child Marriage


Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini himself married a ten-year-old girl when he was twenty-eight. Khomeini called marriage to a prepubescent girl “a divine blessing,” and advised the faithful to give their own daughters away accordingly: “Do your best to ensure that your daughters do not see their first blood in your house.” When he took power in Iran, he lowered the legal marriageable age of girls to nine, in accord with Muhammad’s example.

Unsurprisingly, such laws are a boon to pedophiles, who, as Time magazine reported in 2001, can “marry poor young girls from the provinces, use and then abandon them,” all within the bounds of Islamic law. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that over half of the girls in Afghanistan and Bangladesh are married before they reach the age of eighteen. In early 2002, researchers in refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan found half the girls married by age thirteen. In an Afghan refugee camp, more than two out of three second-grade girls were either married or engaged, and virtually all the girls who were beyond second grade were already married. One ten-year-old girl was engaged to a man of sixty.

Because of the Prophet’s example, such unsavory arrangements are resistant to reform. In an attempt to quash legislation that would raise the minimum marriage age to seventeen, in 2009 Muslim clerics in Yemen issued a fatwa declaring that opposition to child marriage makes one an apostate from Islam. That law was actually passed, but then quickly repealed after some Yemeni legislators dubbed it un-Islamic. The Moroccan imam Mohamed al-Maghraoui himself issued a fatwa in 2008 declaring that marriage with a nine-year-old girl was acceptable according to Islamic law; more Western-minded Moroccan Islamic authorities nullified al-Maghraoui’s ruling, but al-Maghraoui defiantly repeated it in 2011.