Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said that the best age for girls to marry is between 16 and 18, rather than at the younger ages allowed by law.
"The best age for marriage is between 16 to 18 for girls and 19 to 21 for boys," the Mardomsalari newspaper quoted Mr Ahmadinejad as saying. The pronouncement is being interpreted as an effort by the government to gain support among young voters. In 2004, Iran's parliament raised the legally acceptable age of marriage for girls to 15 from nine.
The president's popularity has been harmed since the disputed 2009 presidential vote, which the opposition says was rigged to secure his re-election. "We have a parliamentary election in 2012 and hardliners want to win young people's votes in order to win the assembly vote," said an Iranian political analyst who asked not to be named.
Iranians are struggling to cope with international sanctions and economic uncertainty. The inflation rate is about 10 per cent and unemployment is running at 15 per cent.