Skip to main content

Anger, Confusion Cloud Iran's Adoption-Marriage Bill

While Iran's parliament sought to make marriage illegal between parent and adoptive child, the powerful Guardian Council intervened, drawing unwanted attention to an unusual case.
EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on leaving the office to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.An Iranian girl looks on as she and her mother attend a religious ceremony to commemorate the death anniversary of Fatima, daughter or Prophet Mohammad, in southern Tehran May 17, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN - Tags: ANNIVERSARY RELIGION) - RTR2E0C8

TEHRAN — A proposed law which has created a lot of controversy during the past week in Iran can trace its roots to a verse from the Quran which says,

“God has not made for any man two hearts inside his body. Neither has he made your wives whom you declare to be like your mothers’ backs, your real mothers. Nor has he made your adopted sons your real sons. That is but your saying with your mouths.”

This verse from the holy book has encouraged the media, as well as civil rights and children’s rights activists, to focus on a new law approved by the parliament, which allows foster parents to marry their adopted children despite the fact that parliament had originally intended to pass a law which forbade this type of marriage. 

The legislation, titled “Protection of Children and Adolescents with no guardian (adoption),” was approved by parliament last winter. It was lost, however, in the midst of pre- and post- election excitement. It was only a letter of protest, written by a women’s rights activist, which called the attention of the media to this issue.

In the early days of this controversy, a few of the more famous reformist newspapers, such as Sharq Newspaper, thought that marriage between a foster father and his adopted daughter had been previously banned in Iran. Parliament, with its majority of Principlist members, had tried to amend this law.

However, this is not the real story; the real story is more complex. 

In mid-February 2013, an act was passed by the parliament on "Protection of Children and Adolescents with no guardian (adoption)." In the original act, approved by parliament, marriage between adopted children and their parents was completely banned and it stated that if a foster parent decided to marry his or her adopted child, custody of the child would be taken away from the foster parent. 

The Guardian Council, however, claimed that this bill was against Sharia and returned it to parliament.

The issue stems from traditional and conservative families, in which the adoptive daughter, since she is not related by blood, would have to wear a veil in the home around her adoptive father. Also, adoptive mothers would have to wear the veil around their adoptive sons. Typically, reciting a prayer would have addressed this issue. 

Because the Guardian Council denied a bill allowing an official ban of this type of marriage, parliament modified the original bill so that marriage between foster parents and their adopted children could take place, however only if it were approved by a judge. Also, according to Title 27 of the revised act, marriage between adopted children and their foster parents could only take place if it were requested by the State Welfare Organization and approved by the court. The Guardian Council has not yet voted on this revised bill.

Despite the fact that parliament initially intended to pass a bill to avoid abuse, many have criticized it for taking up and publicizing an issue that is extremely rare in the country. 

A jurist in Tehran said to Al-Monitor, “Marriage between adopted children and foster parents was never banned. There are a lot of absurd laws in the Sharia that no one has ever heard about and no judge ever comes in contact with. It is like opening a can of worms! Until today, no foster parent knew that he could marry his adopted child. Parliament had no reason to feel there is any necessity for such an amendment.”

He is very angry at what he calls “the stupidity” of parliament and says: “Publicizing this issue has serious consequences for families with adopted children. Nothing is normal anymore. Everyone is now being viewed as a potential sex partner by everyone else."

Parliament, however, contends that this has been a serious issue and they could not have allowed the old law to continue without revising it, if only out of respect for public sensitivities. People such as Mohammad Nafriyeh, the vice president in charge of social affairs for the State Welfare Organization, defends this law and considers it a step forward. “Unlike what is being said these days, this amendment in fact puts a stop to the possibility of marriage between foster parents and their adopted children. Previously, however, there was no legal restriction regarding such marriages. This is a step forward.”

Another jurist who is critical of this new legislation told Al-Monitor, “The rate of marriages between foster fathers and their adopted daughters is one in 1 million. What does this mean? It means that there was no need to create such mental disaster for thousands of families regarding an issue that only happens one in 1 million cases. Yes, if these marriages were the norm, then this amendment could have been considered a step forward. However, given the current circumstances, how can this be considered a step forward?”

But this argument was rejected by Mohammad Nafriyeh. In an interview with Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, he said, “As vice-president of the State Welfare Organization, I can tell you that such marriages are not as rare as one might think. We have had cases like these in the past and based on the information that I have, I consider this amendment to be a step forward which can reduce the number of such marriages in the country.”

It is not clear, however, why the State Welfare Organization does not release these statistics. Four months ago, ISNA quoted Hamidreza Alvand, who is in charge of the children’s section in the State Welfare Organization, as saying: “Twenty-two thousand children are covered by the State Welfare Organization; 9,000 of them are located in one of the 508 centers and the remaining 13,000 are placed with trustworthy families."

Alvand said that the rate of adoption increased by 14% during the previous year. These numbers showed that toughening the law regarding the marriage between foster children and their adoptive parents has not decreased people’s desire to adopt children. 

Neda is the pseudonym of a 24-year-old who was adopted when she was three years old. She does not want to discuss this new amendment and only calls it “disgusting.” She says that she knew there was no restriction on adopted fathers marrying their foster daughters but this never occupied her mind or that of her father. “As I constantly see all the news coverage regarding this issue, I get really annoyed. How backward can these people be?”

In the absence of any statistics released by the State Welfare Organization regarding the number of marriages between foster parents and their adopted children, the society hardly believes that the parliament restricting marriage between a foster father and his adopted daughter is any kind of reform or a step forward. Alireza, a 50-year-old man who is the manager of a restaurant, says: “This is legalizing incest. It is really dirty.”

It appears that the complexity of the laws in Iran, and the fact that many of them have their roots in the rules of Sharia, have created a crisis between pro-democracy forces and more traditionalist conservatives. In fact, those who oppose this amendment are aiming for the complete eradication of the possibility of marriage between adopted children and their foster parents.

At times, Al-Monitor withholds the bylines of our correspondents for the protection of our authors. Different authors may have written the individual stories identified on this page.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

The Middle East in your inbox Insights in your inbox.

Deepen your knowledge of the Middle East

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial