22-year-old child bride Zeinab Sekaanvand has been sentenced to death by the Iranian Criminal Court of West Azerbaijan Province under ‘qesas’ for the alleged murder of her husband when she was just 17 years old.
Amnesty International appeals to the Iranian authorities to urgently halt their plans of executing the accused and demands a fair retrial for Zeinab who was a juvenile at the time of receiving her death sentence.
The execution by hanging is to be carried out on 13 October, 2016.
“This is an extremely disturbing case. Not only was Zeinab Sekaanvand under 18 years of age at the time of the crime, she was also denied access to a lawyer and says she was tortured after her arrest by male police officers through beatings all over her body,” said Philip Luther who is the Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“Iran’s continued use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders displays the authorities’ contempt even for commitments they themselves have signed up to. The Iranian authorities must immediately quash Zeinab Sekaanvand’s conviction and grant her a fair retrial without recourse to the death penalty, and in accordance with principles of juvenile justice,” Luther further added.
Although Zeinab had confessed earlier that she had murdered her husband after being subject to months of physical and verbal abuse and repeatedly refused divorce, she, however, at her final trial session, retraced her “confession” and told the court that her husband’s brother was responsible for the murder.
She further reported that her husband’s brother repeatedly raped her, and coerced her into making the previous “confession”, promising he would “pardon” her. (The relatives of murder victims have the power to ‘pardon’ the accused and accept a financial compensation instead). The court rejected her statement, as reported by Amnesty News.
Child bride Zeinab Sekaanvand, who got married at a very young age of 15, was just 17-years-old when she was arrested for the alleged murder in February 2012. She was held in police custody for the next 20 days where she was beaten by male police officers.
It has also been reported that Zeinab was denied access to a lawyer during her entire pre-trial detention. The state, however, appointed a lawyer for the first time at her final trial session on 18 October 2014. It was during this session when Zeinab retraced her previous statement.
The Stigma of Child marriage
According to a study conducted by CNN, a girl under the age of 15 is married every seven seconds. Child marriage greatly affects the future of women and girls around the world, as reported by Save the Children, an organization that works for the betterment of children and women.
“Child marriage starts a cycle of disadvantage that denies girls the most basic rights to learn, develop and be children,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the CEO of Save the Children.
“Girls who marry too early often can’t attend school, and are more likely to face domestic violence, abuse and rape… They also bear children before their bodies are fully prepared, which can have devastating consequences on their and their baby’s health.”
The worst countries for a girl child are Somalia, Mali, Central African Republic, Chad and Niger- all these countries rank at the bottom of the Girls’ Opportunity Index. India has the highest number of child marriages of any country. As per a study conducted in 2006, approximately 24.6 million married females in India were under the age of 18, reported CNN.
Girls caught in the middle of conflict zones such as Syria are more likely to become child brides, with many refugee families marrying off their daughters as a safety or coping mechanism. Poverty and humanitarian crises, lack of education have been reported as some of the other factors that result in the disturbing cases of child marriage.