By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran must reform its laws that allows girls as young as nine to be executed for crimes or forced into sexual relations with older husbands, a United Nations watchdog said on Thursday.
Iran continues to execute children and youth who committed a crime while under 18 years of age, in violation of international standards, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said, after its 18 independent experts reviewed Iran and 13 other countries.
"The age of criminal responsibility in Iran is discriminatory, it is lower and lower for girls, that is to say 9 lunar years while for boys it is 15. At nine a girl can marry, even if the law sets the age at 13," said Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi, a panel member.
Nine lunar years in the Iranian calendar is equivalent to 8 years and nine months, a U.N. spokeswoman said.
The age for boys having criminal responsibility is 15, but the age for girls at 9 is "extremely low", Idrissi said.
The experts deplored that Iran "allows sexual intercourse with girls as young as 9 lunar years and that other forms of sexual abuse of even young children is not criminalized". They called for the age of sexual consent to be raised to 16.
"The Committee is seriously concerned about the reports of increasing numbers of girls at the age of 10 years or younger who are subjected to child and forced marriages to much older men."Girls suffered discrimination in the family, in the criminal justice system, in property rights, and elsewhere, while a legal obligation for girls to be subject to male guard6ianship is "incompatible" Tehran's treaty obligations, the panel said.
Iran made "positive progress" last year with a new Criminal Procedure Code that introduced juvenile courts, but nevertheless there were very serious concerns, the panel's chairman Benyam Mezmur told a news briefing.
"The age of criminal responsibility is very low and there are instances where the death penalty can apply for persons below the age of 18 or for offences they committed while below the age of 18," Mezmur said.
There were no figures for the number of executions of children or juvenile offenders, nor those imprisoned, due to secrecy surrounding the cases, he added.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Tom Miles and Raissa Kasolowsky)