Proposed 'Ministry of Marriage and Divorce' sparks controversy

A new proposed ministry reveals a crisis of divorce in Iran and the inability of other ministries to address youth problems.

al-monitor An Iranian bride waits for her groom during a mass wedding ceremony in Tehran, Aug. 19, 2007. Photo by REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl.
Mehrnaz Samimi

Mehrnaz Samimi


Topics covered

youths, sport, marriage, iran, divorce

Feb 24, 2014

Official statistics released in late 2013 by the government of Iran revealed that one out of five marriages overall, and one out of three in Iran’s bigger cities, end in divorce in less than four years. The latest idea to surface as a possible way to address this issue is the drafting and submission of a proposal to establish a Ministry of Marriage and Divorce.

In an interview at the end of December with ISNA, the state news agency, Mahmoud Golzari, deputy minister of organization at the Ministry of Sports and Youth, connected Iranian's marital problems to a lack of education, describing thorough knowledge of marital life before entering it as a form of vaccination. Golzari said that 20% and 30% are incredibly high percentages for divorce. He went on to say that unmarried counselors are unqualified to offer marriage counseling, as, according to him, “What would a young graduate know about marital problems if they are unmarried themselves? They should not be receiving a license.”

In response to critics opposing a separate ministry to deal with matters of marriage and divorce, supporters of the proposal point out that the Ministry of Sports and Youth tends to primarily deal with athletic-related affairs far more than marital affairs.

After reports confirming completion of a draft proposal for the new ministry on Feb. 10, eyebrows were raised, fun was poked and disbelief was expressed. Officials were quick to defend, explain and justify the plan while emphasizing that it is, in fact, serious, after a few satirists wrote articles ridiculing the idea and questioning the authenticity of the news.

In an interview on Feb. 15 with MEHR News, Ebrahim Nekou, a member of parliament, defended the proposal, arguing that the Ministry of Sports and Youth is essentially only the Ministry of Sports. He asserted, “The Ministry of Sports and Youth has not played a significant role in resolving the problematic aspects of social and marital problems of younger Iranian citizens. This proposal is targeted at helping more young people deal with major life challenges and changes.”

A few other officials have said that supporting and enlightening troubled couples, separated young people and divorcees preparing to remarry should all be functions of the proposed new ministry. Still, some believe that the ministry would be redundant, duplicating the activities of the current Ministry of Sports and Youth.

Nekou, explaining the reasoning behind the proposal, told reporters, “The new ministry is not parallel to the existing one of sports and youth, in which the youth have basically been slighted, and sports matters have been extensively tended to. The existing ministry was expected to present projects aimed at creating more job opportunities for youth, and facilitating marriage and married life for them; this did not happen. Not only was none of this done, but even providing marriage loans to newlyweds has ceased in the past year. On the other hand, we are witnessing an increase in the number of failed marriages recently. Thus, if and when this draft proposal manages to pass the Majles’ Social Commission, the related bill would be eligible and prepared to be voted upon.”

In an interview with Iran’s MEHR news agency on Feb. 20, Abdolreza Azizi, head of the parliamentary Social Commission, expressed his objection to the proposal and to the small budget dedicated to youth affairs. Azizi stated, “Rather than establishing new ministries dedicated to youth matters, we should address existing problems and unfinished projects, and make efforts to resolve them through implementing more effective solutions.”

Azizi went on to say that sports is, above all else, the focus of the administration, claiming that athletic programs and projects absorb almost every penny of the budget intended for youth, and what remains is only a very small amount.

This Iranian parliamentarian and some of his peers who have raised objections to the Ministry of Marriage and Divorce argue that new names, different titles and more bureaucracy will in no way lighten the load of the demons the younger generation of Iranians is battling. They foresee very little chance of the proposal passing, based on its contravening the fifth development program, which encourages smaller government rather than an expanded one.

Azizi, in his interview with MEHR News, noted that the Majles’ Social Commission had approved 3 trillion toomans (around $3 billion) for nuptial assistance, but another body, the Commission of Combination, rejected it. Some Majles members base their opposition to the ministry proposal on the following logic: Why not tend to what is already defined but clearly problematic instead of starting over and creating a new set of problems?

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