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Iran Assembly Pushes on Women's Rights

The News York Times

TEHRAN, Aug. 9 -- Iran's reformist Parliament, fresh from a slap by the country's supreme leader, who ordered it to drop a bill for press reform, showed its determination today to forge ahead with social change and grant women additional rights by raising the marriage age.

The vote will be reflected in the draft of a bill to change a law introduced just after the Islamic revolution in 1979 that lets fathers marry off their daughters as young as 9. More than two-thirds of the 290-member assembly voted for the change, the first major step since Parliament began its session in May.

Fatimeh Haghighatjoo, a reformist legislator who pledged in her election campaign to fight for women's rights, said Parliament would probably vote to increase the age when girls and boys can marry, to 15 or 16, although many in reformers favor 18. The ages before the revolution were 18 for women and 20 for men.

The debate occurred three days after the most senior cleric in Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in state matters, ordered the legislature to drop a bill aimed at restoring a free press.

The new bill would require the approval of the Council of Guardians, a generally hard-line body. Lawmakers who opposed the change said it would be against Islamic law.

"I beg of you not to vote," said a member of Parliament who opposed the draft bill, Mohammad Ali Sheik. "Islamic scholars have put a lot of efforts into these laws."

But other members of Parliament argued that marriage at a young age often hurt families and society.

"We live in a society in which women's rights, the human rights of very young girls, are ignored under this law," one legislator, Elaheh Koulai, said. "You see a child married at the age of 9 who is forced to get involved in daily economic problems. The law must provide appropriately for such children."


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