At first, it sounds like a charming love story: Playmates who grow up side by side in an Iranian village go on to get married.
But when Leila was wedded to Ali, she was 10 years old. He was 15.
“It was nighttime and I was asleep. My neighbors rang the doorbell and came in and put a ring on my finger,” Leila, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda in an interview. “That’s how I got married.”
At 22, Leila has been married more than half her life. In a way, she’s not alone. There are tens of thousands of child brides in Iran, where the legal age of marriage for girls is 13 with parental consent — and girls even younger can be married with permission from a judge. For boys, the age is 15.
The National Organization for Civil Registration statistics registered 37,000 underage marriages in the Islamic republic in the last Iranian year, which ended in March. The real number could be even higher, as many families reportedly don’t register underage marriages.
Leila, who lives with Ali in his parents’ house, said that many girls in their village in East Azerbaijan Province are forced into marriage by their parents at around 10. But that does not mean she was ready for it.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I remember well, my hands were shaking,” she said, adding that the 15-year-old groom “seemed to be very confident.”
“He wasn’t afraid at all. But I was very afraid,” she said.
She said she has little memory of her wedding day, but that it seemed like a game. Once the ceremony was over, all she wanted was to go home to her mother and her life.
“I wanted to tell Ali that the game was over. Let’s go to sleep and tomorrow I would go back to my mother’s house and help her with sewing,” she said.
But her nightmare had just started. Ali was determined to consummate the marriage.
At 10, Leila had not reached puberty, and she said her first sexual intercourse was a very painful experience.
“Even now as I talk about it, my hands are shaking. You can’t imagine how hard it was for me,” she said.
Full story: rferl.org
Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.