Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal and subject to strict penalties, including death, but it remained a problem. The law considers sex within marriage consensual by definition and, therefore, does not address spousal rape, including in cases of forced marriage.
Cases of rape were difficult to document due to nonreporting. Most rape victims likely did not report the crime because they feared retaliation or punishment for having been raped, including charges of indecency, immoral behavior, or adultery, the last of which carries the death penalty. They also feared societal reprisal or ostracism. For a conviction of rape, the law requires four Muslim men or a combination of three men and two women, two men and four women, to have witnessed a rape. A woman or man found making a false accusation of rape is subject to 80 lashes.
The law does not prohibit domestic violence. The Census Bureau, the government agency responsible for data collection, does not permit international organizations to study domestic violence in the country. Authorities consider abuse in the family a private matter and seldom discussed it publicly.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The penal code criminalizes FGM/C and states “the cutting or removing of the two sides of female genitalia leads to “diyeh” (financial penalty or blood money) equal to half the full amount of “diyeh” for the woman’s life.” Whether there were prosecutions for FGM/C during the year is unknown. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted in its January periodic review that despite the criminalization of FGM/C, it continued to occur with impunity, especially in the provinces of Kurdistan, Western Azerbaijan, Kermanshah, Ilam, Lorestan, and Hormozgan. When the mutilation occurred, it was usually performed on girls under the age of 10. A March study on Kermanshah Province suggested that FGM/C was a common practice among women there, with more than 58 percent of girls circumcised; traditional midwives performed 98 percent of the mutilations at the mother’s request.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were no official reports of killings motivated by “honor” or other harmful traditional practices during the year, although human rights activists reported that such killings continued to occur, particularly among rural and tribal populations. The penal code reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who murder or physically harm children in domestic violence or “honor killings.” Under the law the principal of “qisas” (punishment in kind) does not apply to murders within the family committed by the father. If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison rather than the normal death sentence or payment of “diyeh” for homicide cases.
Sexual Harassment: The law addresses sexual harassment in the context of physical contact between men and women and prohibits physical contact between unrelated men and women. There was no reliable data on the extent of sexual harassment, but women and human rights observers reported that sexual harassment was the norm in many workplaces. There were no known government efforts to combat and address this issue. The country’s state-run English language television channel, Press TV, suspended two executives in February after reports emerged they had been sexually harassing female staff.
Reproductive Rights: The law recognizes the basic right of married couples to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Couples are entitled to reproductive healthcare, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. While government healthcare previously included full free access to contraception and family planning for married couples, state family planning cuts in 2012 reducing the budget to almost zero remained in place.
Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal protection for women under the law in conformity with its interpretation of Islam. The government did not enforce the law, however, and provisions in the Islamic civil and penal codes, particularly sections dealing with family and property law, discriminate against women and restricted women’s economic, social, political, academic, and cultural rights.
Women may not transmit citizenship to their children or to a noncitizen spouse. The government does not recognize marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, irrespective of their citizenship. The law states that a virgin woman or girl wishing to wed needs the consent of her father or grandfather or the court’s permission, even if she is over the age of 18.
The law permits a man to have as many as four wives and an unlimited number of “sigheh” (temporary wives), based on a Shia custom under which couples can enter into a limited time civil and religious contract, which outlines the union’s conditions. The law does not grant temporary wives and any resulting children rights associated with traditional marriage, but the contract is enforceable, and recognized children can obtain documentation and have limited rights.
A woman has the right to divorce if her husband signs a contract granting that right, cannot provide for his family, has violated the terms of their original marriage contract, or is a drug addict, insane, or impotent. A husband is not required to cite a reason for divorcing his wife. Traditional interpretations of Islamic law recognize a divorced woman’s right to part of shared property and to alimony. These laws were not always enforced, and the ability of a woman to seek divorce was limited. According to ISNA if a personal maintenance allowance is not paid, the wife may “reject all legal and religious obligations” to her husband. By law such an allowance may be requested during the marriage as well as after a divorce, and if it is not paid, the woman may sue her former husband in court.
The civil code provides divorced women preference in custody for children up to age seven, but fathers maintain legal guardianship rights over the child and must agree on many legal aspects of the child’s life (such as issuing travel documents, enrolling in school, or the filing of a police report). After the child reaches the age of seven, the father is granted custody unless he is proven unfit to care for the child. Courts determine custody in disputed cases. Once children reach the legal age of maturity, the court must also consider the preference of the child in determining the custody arrangement.
Women sometimes received disproportionate punishment for crimes such as adultery, including death sentences (see section 1.a.). The Islamic penal code retains provisions that value a woman’s testimony in a court of law as half that of a man’s, and a woman’s life as half that of a man’s. According to the penal code, the “diyeh” (blood money) paid in the death of a woman is half the amount of a death of a man, with the exception of car accident insurance payments.
According to 2012 UN statistics, the female youth literacy rate was 98.5 percent, and the adult female literacy rate was 90.3 percent. Women had access to primary and advanced education, although the percentage of female students entering universities decreased from 62 percent in 2007-2008 to 42 percent in the current year as a result gender-rationing policies implemented in 2012. Quotas and other restrictions, which varied across universities, limited women’s undergraduate admissions to certain fields, as well as to certain master’s and doctoral programs.
Social and legal constraints limited women’s professional opportunities, and the unemployment rate for women was nearly twice that for men. Women were represented in many fields, including in government and police forces but the law requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s permission to work. The law does not provide that women and men must be paid equally for equal work. According to a 2015 survey for the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, women earned on average 58 percent as much money as their male counterparts for similar work. Women may not serve in many high-level political positions or as judges, except as consultants or research judges without the power to impose sentences.
Women faced discrimination in home and property ownership, as well as access to financing. In cases of inheritance, male heirs receive twice the inheritance of their female counterparts. The government enforced gender segregation in many public spaces, including for patients during medical care, and prohibited women from mixing openly with unmarried men or men not related to them. In 2015 the deputy minister for sports announced women would be permitted to enter sports stadiums and attend some sporting events, but authorities did not implement the new policy. Women must ride in a reserved section on public buses and enter some public buildings, universities, and airports through separate entrances. While riding a bicycle is not legally a crime for women in Iran, religious and local authorities in Marivan, Kurdistan banned women from riding bicycles in public. International media reported that several women were arrested and forced to sign pledges that they would cease riding bicycles after being stopped by authorities on July 26.
The law provides that a woman who appears in public without appropriate attire, such as a cloth scarf veil (“hejab”) over the head and a long jacket (“manteau”), or a large full-length cloth covering (“chador”), may be sentenced to flogging and fined. Absent a clear legal definition of “appropriate covering” or of the punishment, women were subjected to the opinions of disciplinary forces, police, security forces, or judges. In September local media reported that police barred 800 shops from selling women’s clothing with controversial slogans like “I am queen” and “no rules.” Iranian media reported on the announcement of the expansion of Tehran’s morality police force to include 7,000 additional undercover agents to police “bad hejab.”
The country established the National Body on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2012 to promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is signatory. The body, which reviews draft regulations and legislation relating to child rights, is not independent and is overseen by the Ministry of Justice. The country underwent a periodic panel review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in January. The review noted many concerns, including discrimination against girls; children with disabilities; unregistered, refugee, and migrant children; and LGBTI children. The 2015 updates to the penal code called for the establishment of a separate juvenile court system, and male juvenile detainees were held in separate Rehabilitation Centers in most urban areas. Nevertheless, female juvenile detainees and male juvenile detainees in rural areas were held alongside adults in detention facilities, according to NGO reports presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Birth Registration: Only a child’s father conveys citizenship, regardless of the child’s country of birth or mother’s citizenship. Birth within the country’s borders does not confer citizenship, except when a child is born to unknown parents. The law requires that all births be registered within 15 days.
Education: Although primary schooling until age 11 is free and compulsory for all, the media and other sources reported lower enrollment in rural areas, especially for girls. According to 2012 UN statistics, the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary school is 98 percent. UNHCR stated that school enrollment among refugees was generally higher outside camps and settlements, where greater resources were available. According to NGO reports presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a girl can be denied education if she is pregnant or if her husband so wishes.
Child Abuse: There was little information available to reflect how the government dealt with child abuse, which was largely regarded as a private family matter. The 2002 Law for the Protection of Children and Juvenile states, “Any form of abuse of children and juveniles that causes physical, psychological, or moral harm and threatens their physical or mental health is prohibited,” and such crimes carry a maximum sentence of three months or 10 million rials ($332). The law does not directly address sexual molestation nor provide punishment for it.
In October media reported the alleged rape of juvenile, male religious students by renowned Quran reciter, Mohammad Gandom Toosi. According to reports senior regime figures including Supreme Leader Khamenei attempted to cover up the scandal for four years when the victims and their families filed complaints with the judiciary. Toosi denied the charges, and the judiciary has claimed it is difficult to ascertain the truth in such cases. Journalists have been warned against publicizing the ongoing investigation. While no separate law exists for the rape of a child, the crime of rape, regardless of the victim’s ages, is potentially punishable by death under the country’s Islamic Penal Code.
Despite UN calls for their reopening, the Association for the Defense of Working and Street Children, closed in 2008, and the Society for Endeavoring to Achieve a World Worthy of Children, closed in 2009, remained closed at year’s end. The law permits executions of individuals who have reached the age of criminal maturity, defined as age nine for girls and age 13 for boys, if a judge determines the individual understood the nature and consequences of the crime. According to AI at least 160 juveniles were at risk of execution, and authorities executed one individual during the year for alleged crimes committed under the age of 18 (see section 1.a.).
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for girls is 13, but girls as young as nine years old may be married with permission from the court and their father. UNICEF’s state of the child report for 2015 estimates 3 percent of girls are married before the age of 15 and 17 percent before the age of 18. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted in January that the country continued to maintain practices of child marriage and forced marriage, including thousands of marriages of children below 13 years old.
NGOs reported that many girls committed suicide to escape such marriages and that there were major shortcomings in the country’s legal system that “allows sexual intercourse with girls as young as nine lunar years and that other forms of sexual abuse of even younger children is not criminalized.” The law requires court approval for the marriage of boys younger than 15 years old. Iran’s 2011 national census recorded 11,289 married girls under the age of 18 had at least one child before their 15th birthdays. According to the newspaper Shahrvand, there were more than 40,000 registered marriages for girls under the age of 15 in 2014. The number may be higher because NGOs reported that many families did not register underage marriages. Local media reported on a mass marriage ceremony of 50 high school students in Parsian in February where the local governor congratulated the families with gifts.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: See women’s section above.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age requirements for consensual sex are the same as those for marriage, and sex outside of marriage is illegal. The law prohibits all forms of pornography, including child pornography. There are no specific laws regarding child sexual exploitation with such crimes either falling under the category of child abuse or sexual crimes of adultery. According to ICHRI, the legal ambiguity between child abuse and sexual molestation can lead to child sexual molestation cases being prosecuted under adultery laws. Local media reported a sexual abuse case of a nine-year-old girl, Neda, in May who had been sexually abused by her teacher at the 22 Bahman School in Zanjan. Despite medical reports indicating that the teacher had raped the child, ICHRI reported that the court gave the teacher a lesser sentence of having “illegitimate relations.”
Displaced Children: There were thousands of Afghan refugee children in the country, many of whom were born in the country but could not obtain identification documents. These children were often unable to attend schools or access basic government services and were vulnerable to labor exploitation and trafficking. In its January commission report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted continued “allegations of abuse and ill-treatment of refugee and asylum-seeking children by police and security forces.”
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For country-specific information, see the Department of State’s website at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The law recognizes Jews as a religious minority and provides representation in parliament. Siamak Moreh Sedgh is the Jewish Member of Parliament.
Officials continued to question the history of the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism remained a pervasive problem. A cultural institute organized a third international Holocaust cartoon contest in May (authorities held the first in 2005 and the second in 2015).
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law generally prohibits discrimination by government actors against persons with disabilities but the law does not apply to private actors. No information was available regarding authorities’ effectiveness in enforcing the law. Electoral law prohibits those with visual, hearing, or speech disabilities from running for seats in parliament. While the law provides for government-funded vocational education for persons with disabilities, according to domestic news reports, vocational centers were located in urban areas and unable to meet the needs of the entire population.
The State Welfare Organization of Iran, under the Ministry of Cooperation, Labor, and Social Welfare, is the principal governmental agency charged with protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. It was founded in 1980 to assist persons with disabilities and disadvantaged persons financially and through support to 16 government entities. In addition to supporting low-income groups, it is charged with trying to prevent physical disabilities and support rehabilitation.
The law provides for public accessibility to government-funded buildings, and new structures appeared to comply with the standards in these provisions. There were efforts to increase the access of persons with disabilities to historical sites. Government buildings that predated existing accessibility standards remained largely inaccessible, and general building accessibility for persons with disabilities remained a problem. Persons with disabilities had limited access to informational, educational, and community activities.
While the constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities and allows minority languages to be used in the media, minorities did not enjoy equal rights, and the government consistently barred the use of their languages in school as the language of instruction. IRGC forces allegedly controlled security in two provinces, Sistan-va Baluchistan and Kurdistan, home to large ethnic minority Baluch and Kurdish communities, respectively.
The government disproportionately targeted minority groups, including Kurds, Ahvazis, Azeris, and Baluchis, for arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, and physical abuse. UN Committee on Rights of Child reported “widespread discrimination against children of ethnic minorities,” as well as “reported targeted arrests, detentions, imprisonments, killings, torture and executions against such groups by the law enforcement and judicial authorities” in its January panel review on the country. These groups reported political and socioeconomic discrimination, particularly in their access to economic aid, business licenses, university admissions, job opportunities, permission to publish books, and housing and land rights. Ethnolinguistic minorities are not free to name their children; the country’s civil registry maintains a list of acceptable names, and individuals who wish to choose a name not on this list (in their own language) cannot register the birth of their child. The law, which requires religious screening and allegiance to the concept of “velayat-e faqih” not found in Sunni Islam, impaired the ability of Sunni (many of whom are also Baluch, Ahvazi, or Kurdish) to integrate into civic life and to work in certain fields.
Human rights organizations observed that the government’s application of the death penalty disproportionately affected ethnic minorities. In pretrial detention authorities reportedly repeatedly subjected members of minority ethnicities and religions to more severe physical punishment or torture than other prisoners, regardless of the type of crime for which authorities accused them. In his March report, the UN Special Rapporteur reported the continued indiscriminate, extrajudicial killing of unarmed Kurdish smugglers or border couriers in Kermanshah, Kurdistan, Sistan-va Baluchistan, and West Azerbaijan.
The estimated eight million ethnic Kurds in the country frequently campaigned for greater regional autonomy. The government continued to use security law, media law, and other legislation to arrest and prosecute Kurds for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. The government reportedly banned Kurdish-language newspapers, journals, and books and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. Authorities suppressed legitimate activities of Kurdish NGOs by denying them registration permits or bringing security charges against persons working with such organizations. Authorities did not prohibit the use of Kurdish language, but authorities prohibited most schools from teaching it with the exception of the Kurdish language program at the University of Kurdistan.
There were updates in the case of longtime Kurdish rights activist and journalist Mohammad Sediq Kaboudvand, who was originally arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the state.” ICHRI reported he started a hunger strike on May 8 after his conditional release orders were overturned, and new charges were added to his existing sentence after he spoke out about Kurds fighting in Kobani, Syria.
International human rights observers, including the IHRDC, stated that the country’s estimated two million Ahvazi Arabs, representing 110 tribes, faced continued oppression and discrimination. Ahvazi rights activists reported the government continued to confiscate Ahvazi property to use for government project development by refusing to recognize the paper deeds of the local population from the prerevolutionary era. The Iranian state-run news agency Young Journalists Club reported the execution of three ethnic Ahvazis, Ghais Obidawi, Ahmad Obidawi, and Sajjad Balawi on August 17. Iran Human Rights reported that the three were sentenced to death without a fair trial. HRANA reported intelligence forces arrested 16 Ahvazi civilians and raided their houses in Shahrak-e-Hamzeh in Dezfool, Khuzestan, on August 23. Their whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.
Ethnic Azeris, who numbered approximately 13 million, or 16 percent of the population, were more integrated into government and society and included the supreme leader among their numbers. IRNA reported the first inclusion of Azeri language and literature majors in universities on August 15. Azeris reported the government, nevertheless, discriminated against them by prohibiting the Azeri language in schools, harassing Azeri activists or organizers, and changing Azeri geographic names. Media reported that 25 protestors were arrested in June after protests erupted in Azeri areas over the publication of lines of poetry in state media that insulted Azeris. HRANA reported the August 18 arrest of Azeri couple, Jalal Shishvani and Shahnaz Tosi, in East Azerbaijan province for their online activism.
Local and international human rights groups alleged serious economic, legal, and cultural discrimination during the year against the predominantly ethnic Baluchi minority, estimated to be between 1.5 and two million persons. Areas with large Baluchi populations were severely underdeveloped and had limited access to education, employment, health care, and housing, with Baluchi rights activists reporting that more than 70 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. According to activist reports, during the summer authorities set many houses on fire in villages in the Chahbahar region, destroying person’s homes. The law limited Sunni Baluchis’ employment opportunities and political participation, which caused them to be underrepresented in government positions. Activists reported that throughout the year, and especially during the month of Moharam, the government sent hundreds of Shia missionaries to areas with large Sunni Baluch populations to try to convert the local population. According to Baluchi rights activists, Baluchi journalists and human rights activists faced arbitrary arrest, physical abuse, and unfair trials. Baluchi rights activists reported that families of those in prison were often pressured to remain silent and threatened with retaliation for speaking out about cases.
Human Rights in Iran website reported on October 19 that MOIS agents arrested Ameneh Issazadeh, a Sunni Baluchi girl from Sirik Township, at her home for criticizing religious ceremonies on social media during the month of Moharam. She contacted her family from a MOIS detention center in Bandar Abbas after several days, but her family was not allowed to see her.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by death, flogging, or a lesser punishment. The law does not distinguish between consensual and nonconsensual same sex intercourse, and NGOs reported this lack of clarity leads to both the victim and the perpetrator being held criminally liable under the law in cases of assault. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Security forces harassed, arrested, and detained individuals they suspected of being gay or transgender. In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored internet sites for information on LGBTI persons. Those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met. Punishment for same-sex sexual activity between men was more severe than between women.
The government censored all materials related to LGBTI issues. Authorities particularly blocked websites or content within sites that discussed LGBTI issues, including the censorship of Wikipedia pages defining LGBTI and other related topics. There were active, unregistered LGBTI NGOs in the country. Hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms did not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes. International LGBTI NGOs reported that many young gay men faced harassment and abuse from family members, religious figures, school leaders, and community elders.
Those dismissed from mandatory military service due to their sexual orientation received special exemption cards indicating the reason for their dismissal, according to the LGBTI activist group 6Rang. Iranian law requires all male citizens over 18 to serve in the military but exempts gay and transgender men, who are classified as having mental disorders. New military ID cards will list the subsection of the law dictating their exemption on their ID cards, which, according to 6Rang, identifies them as gay or transgender and puts them at risk of physical danger and general discrimination.
The government provided transgender persons financial assistance in the form of grants of up to 45 million rials ($1,454) and loans up to 55 million rials ($1,777) to undergo gender-confirmation surgery. Additionally, the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor, and Social Welfare requires health insurers to cover the cost of gender-confirmation surgery. Individuals who underwent gender-confirmation surgery may petition a court for new identity documents with corrected gender data, which the government reportedly provided efficiently and transparently. NGOs reported that authorities pressured LGBTI persons to undergo gender-confirmation surgery.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Despite government programs to treat and provide financial and other assistance to persons with HIV/AIDS, international news sources and organizations reported that individuals known to be infected with HIV/AIDS faced widespread societal discrimination, including in schools and workplaces.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There was societal discrimination on linguistic grounds against groups whose native language was not Persian, and on religious grounds against non-Shia persons (see International Religious Freedom Report). The extent of such discrimination, largely at the individual level, was difficult to determine.