“I had to get rid of our unborn child. It was the most difficult decision of my entire life,” says Mitra, a 27-year-old interior designer who lives in Tehran with her partner.
Mitra and Mohsen, a 32-year-old doctor, moved in together under an arrangement known as a “white marriage” – a form of cohabitation between a man and a woman that, like sex before marriage, is illegal under strict rules. Islamic laws of Iran.
“Mohsen and I understood the challenges in advance but we had no plans [to conceive] then “, adds Mitra.
Eventually they changed their minds and hoped to be able to navigate the legal maze to get a birth certificate for their unborn child. Despite their best efforts, they were pushed towards abortion.
Article 1167 of the Iranian Civil Code, which states that “a child born of adultery must not belong to the adulterer”, means that unmarried parents have no right of custody as a couple and only the mother can request that his name be listed on the child’s birth certificate list.
As for the child, the authorities keep a confidential record of those born under such circumstances, information that may prevent them from getting certain jobs in the future.
While there is no official figure for white marriage relationships, they are increasingly common and have become a thorn in the side of the hardline establishment.
And, having failed to reduce them, alarmed officials now have to struggle with the dilemma of what to do with the children of cohabiting couples.
“At the end of the day, those children will need to receive their birth certificates before they are enrolled in school,” Deputy Minister for Youth Affairs Mohammad Mehdi Tondgouyan told Ilna News Agency recently, warning that the consequences of failing addressing the issue could be disastrous.
‘We do not Surrend’
Although they are aware of the issue of children conceived in white marriages, few of the Iranian elites have spoken publicly about it.
Parvaneh Salahshouri, a former reformist MP, raised the alarm last September when she warned that abortion was the only choice for cohabiting women who got pregnant.
But Salahshouri has come under fierce criticism from the ultra-conservative Fars news agency for her “unsubstantiated claims.”
The Iranian establishment argues that economic challenges and complicated premarital rituals are driving Iranian singles away from conventional, religion-approved marriages.
It has gone out of its way to encourage younger generations to join such unions by offering interest-free loans to help with upfront costs.
“This is just a pain reliever,” says Shina, 31, of the western city of Hamedan.
“How about breakneck rents?” he notes, referring to a real estate market that has seen prices skyrocket in recent years.
Shina has been with her partner Sadegh for a decade and sees coexistence as a form of rebellion against the authorities in the Islamic Republic.
“We are not giving up on such a forced agreement [of marriage]”he says.” How is it that refusing to exchange some votes suddenly makes our relationship illegitimate?
Evidence of cohabitation’s popularity is clearly visible on Iran’s vibrant social media platforms – also a sign that the social stigma is fading.
A plethora of channels on the Telegram messaging app serve as places for Iranian singles to look for a partner. One channel has more than 45,000 subscribers, who share their personal data in hopes of finding a match.
However, the fate of such virtual communities hangs in the balance due to opposition among Iranian extremists.
Their hold on power was strengthened earlier this year following the election of ultra-conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi as president.
Just two weeks ago, he ordered Iran’s leading internet supervisor to prioritize the “health and safety” of cyberspace, an indication that stricter controls may be in place.
“Our dreams have been shattered”
For Shina and Sadegh, the current restrictions have come at a high cost.
The couple applied for a visa to Germany when Shina became pregnant in 2016, knowing the legal problems they and their baby would face. However, they were rejected.
“Our dreams were shattered and the abortion was the [only] choice, “remembers Shina.
Abortion is illegal in Iran, unless the pregnancy endangers the woman’s life or the fetus has severe physical deformities. Due to such restrictions, the abortion pill is not available on the market and many women are forced to seek illegal layoffs which can be dangerous.
A 36-year-old midwife, who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons, says she conducted three illegal abortions for cohabiting couples at her private clinic west of Tehran.
For those couples with the means, leaving Iran is an option.
Pari and her partner Yassin, both 35, spent all their savings on the purchase of an apartment in the Turkish city of Istanbul, which has become a popular destination for many Iranians disappointed by their country’s economic meltdown and stifling social environment. and political.
“When I had my first morning sickness I decided that this time I would keep the baby, regardless of the price,” says Pari, who had an abortion after a previous pregnancy.
“Leaving our homeland behind has never been easy. But we will raise the child born of our love, and that’s what matters,” he proudly declares.
“However, I can’t stop thinking about my cohabiting friends who wish to have a baby and are deprived of the opportunity.”
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