Does Iranian law allow for child abuse? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 22.11.2018
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Does Iranian law allow for child abuse?

Creating laws to protect children from sexual abuse continues to be a difficult process in Iran. Abuse cases are rarely publicized in the country, although Iran is a signatory of the UN convention on child rights.

In a recent case in Iran, a victim anonymously posted a story on Twitter of abuse he experienced at the hands of a teacher 17 years prior. He was able to find support on social media from people who had similar experiences of abuse.

He was inspired to finally share his story only after he saw a case of sexual abuse publicized in a news report from the southern Iranian city of Shoushtar. A gardener with "psychiatric problems" reportedly molested children and took pictures of his victims. A journalist published the pictures in the report.

Read more: Child marriage in Iran forces girls into a life of oppression

Covering up abuse

However, many cases of abuse are not made public in Iran. In some cases, prominent figures who were accused, have been able to use their influence to escape justice.

Iran Justiz Saeed Tousi (ILNA)

In 2016, Koran reciter Said Tousi was accused of child molestation and the charges were dropped

In 2016, a prominent Koran reciter, Said Tousi, was accused by 16 different youth of sexual abuse. The accusers were ready to take the case before a judge and provide witness testimony. Allegedly, Tousi had connections with Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Tousi's case made it to the top of Iran's chief justice and it was dropped in February.

Read more: Psychiatrist: Child abuse can cause mental disorders

A representative of the chief justice issued a statement saying that "child abuse and sexual abuse of children is not common in our country. Compared to Western countries, we have very few cases of abuse because of our cultural and religious characteristics. "

Mahmoud Sadeghi, an Iranian parliamentarian, recently tweeted that the Tousi case emboldened rapists and child abusers.

"If the Tousi case had not been discontinued on the orders of the highest judiciary, rapists would not dare behave so boldly," Sadeghi tweeted a few days ago.

No legal protection for children?

The legal system in Iran also contributes to protecting perpetrators against persecution and explains the "small number" of cases.

"According to Islamic law, adolescents over the age of 15 are no longer children and are legal adults," Mohammad Mohebi, an Islamic legal expert, told DW, adding that the age of legal responsibility is nine years old for girls and 15 for boys.

Read more: Iran protests: 'Isolated regime unlikely to survive'

"Sharia law is the primary source for legal decisions," said Mohebi. "But child abuse is not defined in Sharia law and Islamic scholars have a hard time with defining abuse. This is also the reason behind opposition to parliament's recent bill on the protection of children's rights in Iran."

Iranian law provides little rights to victims of sexual abuse who want to take their cases to court. In cases like the child rapist in Shoushtar, victims must prove that the sex acts were non-consensual and against their explicit will.

In proving their cases under current Iranian law, sexual abuse victims could even be charged with "forbidden behavior" and receive fines or a maximum of one year in jail – which is also the maximum penalty that the rapist would face.

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