Here in the West, we are currently anticipating Valentine's Day — a romantic holiday allowing couples the opportunity to celebrate their love, complete with tokens of endearing sentiments such as dates, chocolates, flowers and gifts. It is certainly a luxurious holiday in that we have the ‘luxury’ of openly expressing feelings of affection towards those we choose to love.
Meanwhile, in Iran, countless young girls are forcibly entered into loveless marriages every day. These girls have no idea what marriages of love and intimacy look like — a concept far removed from their culture.
I’m all too familiar with this; I was born in Iran.
Enslavement and abuse in marriage
From childhood on, Iranians are limited in how they experience and express love, girls are controlled regarding their appearance and behavior, and females are all too often subjected to various forms of oppression — destining and conditioning Iranian females to anticipate control, enslavement and abuse their entire lives while simultaneously normalizing this experience.
- Iranian girls and women have virtually no rights over their bodies, their image, their voices or their decisions; the rights are maintained by their fathers or husbands.
- Unwed (and unrelated) men and women are not allowed to be seen with one another in any capacity.
- Countless women are entered into prostitution from a young age, often resulting in drug addiction, loss of identity and ongoing cycles of network abuse.
- Beyond having the covering of a father, brother or husband — Iranian women remain powerless, without legal standing and unable to effectively represent themselves from a legal standpoint.
- Iranian mothers have no rights to their children; the children effectively ‘belong’ to their fathers. So, if a woman becomes divorced, she is forced to leave both her husband and her own children.
By the time couples enter into marriage, these women have already been beaten down with so many of these cultural hurdles, that the concept of any romantic expression of love — even in a marriage — is extremely limited or unlikely.
Most Iranian marriages are arranged — and a shocking proportion of them involve the marrying of underage girls. In Iran, the legal marriage age is 13 for girls and 15 for boys; however, the distressing reality is that these ages tend to be much lower. According to Iran Wire, within the last eight years, more than 1 million female child marriages — including 13,500 younger than 13 — have been documented, accounting for more than 20% of all marriages in Iran.
This is utterly agonizing; consider all these powerless children married off to older men, oppressed and abused in marriages — without any voice, any freedom and any rights to their own bodies whatsoever.
Beyond conventional prostitution, remains a legalized form of abuse: the temporary marriage, known as ‘Sighe’ in the Iranian culture. This operates as an oppressive, inhumane loophole in that men are allowed to take women or young girls to religious leaders in order to be granted temporary marriages — lasting anywhere from an hour to a week — in which these men are permitted to have sexual relations with these girls in the confined marriage timeframes.
For the women who are married in the more traditional Iranian capacity, their fate isn’t much better — if at all. When these girls get married off — a significant portion will become pregnant, resulting in high rates of Iranian teen pregnancy — vastly differential from the concept that initially comes to mind when we think of ‘teen pregnancy’ here in the West. Rather, these teen pregnancies are derived from oppressive, forced marriages that often result in divorce.
Today, there are mass proportions of these teenagers, likely to be divorced after they have given birth, with no male advocation — forcing them to be labeled as non-entities in Iran, living on the streets, completely destitute — meaning they have no future, no opportunities and no legal standing.
Finally, we are now seeing the repercussions of the recent protests in the form of governmental authorities officially arresting and executing protestors. Merely months ago, we witnessed illegal brutality in the streets; now these executions are legal.
We cannot ignore this heartbreaking reality
How can we in the West consider helping this huge community of futureless children?
We must fight alongside them by raising awareness and covering them in daily prayer; this is a fight for their freedom, for their voices to be heard and for their very lives — an enormous generational, cultural and spiritual battle. Let us not forget about these innocent girls who are being enslaved, abused, neglected and killed. We absolutely cannot forget about them; Jesus loves them and is passionately fighting for them.
Jesus came to set the captives free. And here we see it happening now; though we are only witnessing the beginning of these women fighting for their freedom, a reversion isn't anticipated. Thus far, 139 days of fighting has passed with these courageous women showing no signs of weariness or discouragement; if anything, it seems they are more motivated now than ever to persevere.
I find it difficult to believe this is anything shy of God’s provision over these women. Though many of them do not know Jesus yet, I cling to the hope that they will learn of His goodness and love through this brave fight for their lives and freedom. In this battle, I pray that they learn their worth in the Lord; He is the one who will give them an identity and a future, ultimately filling them with the love they have yet to experience.
“For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Join me in prayer for these courageous souls, share about their oppression, be their voice and fight the fight alongside them. We are called to defend the oppressed, the weak, the poor and the fatherless (Psalms 82:3). Let us be the hands and feet of Jesus to these women today.
Lana Silk is the Chief Executive Officer – USA of Transform Iran, a nonprofit organization which seeks to transform Iran into a nation that bears the image of Christ. Silk was born and raised in Iran before emigrating to the UK where she completed her education at Imperial College, London. With over 20 years of marketing experience across all media, Lana considers it her life calling to represent and advocate for the people of Iran in the West.