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Iranian Child Bride at 'Imminent Risk of Execution'

Forced into marriage at the age of 14, three years later she shot her abusive husband dead with his own gun and buried him in the yard.

by Justin Rohrlich
Jun 21 2014, 11:55am

Image via Stephanie Sinclair/VII/TooYoungToWed

When Razieh Ebrahimi was 14 years old, her parents forced her to marry the neighbor's son. At 15, she gave birth to her first child. The abuse meted out by Razieh's husband became too much to bear. So in 2010, at the age of 17, she shot him dead with his own gun and buried him in the yard.

Razieh's family turned her into the police. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Razieh, who lives in Iran, is today all of 21. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), she could be dead within a week.

"I don't know if the judiciary has actually made an announcement yet," Faraz Sanei of Human Rights Watch told VICE News. "But because these things can happen very quickly in Iran, we have decided that she is at imminent risk of execution."

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It shouldn't be happening in the first place, says Sanei. Razieh was under 18 when she killed her husband. The UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) prohibits minors from being sentenced to death, regardless of the charge. Since Iran is a signatory to the ICCPR, the judge in Razieh's case is, in fact, prohibited by international law from ordering her execution.

'We have decided that she is at imminent risk of execution.'

However, in Iran, international law often takes a backseat to Sharia law. In December, Iran's judiciary head Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani said, "Many of the issues raised on the pretext of human rights, including opposing the death penalty, are in fact in opposition to Islam."

So, the juvenile death sentences get handed down anyway. By Amnesty International's count, Iran carried out 704 executions in 2013. Of those, 11 may have been under 18-years-old when they committed their alleged crimes. Amnesty reports that there have been 51 juvenile executions in Iran since 1990.

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In May, Iran passed a revised Islamic Penal Code that outlawed the execution of certain offenders under the age of 18. A child convicted of a drug crime no longer faces the death penalty, but this new exception doesn't apply in the case of murder.

"The judgements that get handed down are called qisas," explains Sanei. "It's an Arabic word which translates to 'retribution-in-kind,' and means exactly what it says."

If someone cuts off another person's arm, the victim has the right to ask the court to issue a punishment of exactly the same act. In a murder case, the family makes the decision. If they want retribution, the state carries out the execution.

The condemned is sometimes forgiven by the family of the deceased and given a last-minute reprieve. This actually happened in April, when a murder victim's mother walked up to her son's killer and slapped him in the face, after which the victim's father removed the noose from the neck of the accused.

Razieh has not been so lucky; her husband's family has refused to pardon her.

Iran is also bound by other UN treaties that prohibit both forced marriages and child marriages. According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, "marriage must be entered into with the free consent of the intending spouses." According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the legal age for marriage is 18.

Nevertheless, data compiled by an organization called Justice for Iran maintains that 1,537 girls younger than 10 and 29,827 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were forced into marriages in 2012 alone.

Most girls are pulled out of school when they are married off, Stephanie Sinclair, the founder and executive director of the non-profit Too Young To Wed, told VICE News.

She said that child brides are "treated like property, forced into sexual relationships, and made to have children when their bodies aren't physically ready." To that end, mothers under the age of 15 die at a rate five times that of mothers over 20.

'I think people underestimate the trauma involved with child marriage.'

Sinclair, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, first encountered child brides in 2003 when photographing Afghani women who had immolated themselves. As she got to know more and more of them on a personal level, Sinclair realized that all of them had been married when they were no older than 11 years old.

"I think people underestimate the trauma involved with child marriage," she said. "Having to bear all the burdens of being a wife while still a child can definitely affect someone's mental health."

Sinclair noted that this is a large part of the reason these girls either attack their husbands or try to kill themselves.

A briefing paper from Justice for Iran tells stories of children being married off to grown men. In one case, an 11 year-old named Zahra was forced by her father to marry a 35 year-old. When the abuse became too much to bear, Zahra killed herself by swallowing brass beads.

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In another case, a girl was in the seventh grade when her parents forced her to marry. While pregnant with their first child, her husband's beatings caused her to miscarry. They finally had two sons, but the boys' time with their mother was short. When she was just 20 her husband murdered her. His uncle was well-connected, and he was never sent to jail.

The Iranian theocracy "hangs poets, tortures bloggers, and jails its opposition," David Keyes, executive director of NYC-based non-profit Advancing Human Rights, told VICE News.

"Allowing children to be married off and put to to death are just two examples of Iran's unconscionable and systematic violations of human rights," he said.

As for Razieh Ebrahimi, child brides, and and the issue of kids being executed, it's not hard to feel removed from something so far away.

"It's all too easy to say, 'This is happening in another part of the world, it's their culture,' " Sinclair said. "But these are still children. The only difference between us and them is that we were lucky enough to be born here, so this isn't our problem in the same way. But if it was, we'd hope that people would care enough to stick up for us, to be outraged, and to do what they could to help."

Follow Justin Rohrlich on Twitter: @JustinRohrlich