By: Kelly Grounds, Peak Associate
In late May of this year, Romina Ashrafi, age 14, ran away from her home in Iran to be with her boyfriend. The decision came after Ashrafi’s father objected to their marriage. After running away, the couple was intercepted and Ashrafi was sent home, despite telling the police that she feared for her life. Soon after returning home, she was attacked by her father in her bedroom and decapitated with a sickle.
At the time that Ashrafi was murdered, children had minimal rights and protection in Iran. Juveniles could legally be executed, girls could be married at 13, and there were no standard child labour laws. However, in May 2009 — 11 years before Ashrafi’s murder — Iranian lawmakers had submitted the Bill for the Protection of the Rights of Children and Youth in order to shield children from violence and abuse.
Unfortunately, this bill still had not been placed into law when Ashrafi was murdered. As a result, she had nowhere to turn to for legal protection while she feared for her life. Her murder clearly highlights the lack of protections for children in similar situations across Iran who did not have people to protect them. The people of Iran also noticed this and were rightly incensed.
Following the national call to action, President Hassan Rouhani pressed parliament to expedite the passing of the 2009 bill. Following much delay, the bill was finally passed by the parliament after they ruled that it was not inconsistent with Shariah or Islamic law. Now, officials are legally required to report child abuse cases and remove children from abusisve situations.
While this bill does improve the lives of children across the country, it still took 11 years for the Iranian parliament to pass it. Had the bill been in place while Ashrafi was alive, she may not have been returned to a home where she feared for her life. Instead the bill, much like other bills aimed at protecting vulnerable groups, was placed in legal limbo and as a result, abuse was allowed to continue — with fatal consequences.