Tehran - Iranian authorities have approved a law to raise the age at which girls can get married without their parents' consent to 13 from nine and for boys to 15 from 14, newspapers said on Sunday.

The decision by Iran's Expediency Council arbitration body watered down a bill passed by the reformist-dominated parliament in 2000 which tried to raise the age of consent to 15 for girls and 18 for boys to cut teenage marriages and ease criticism of Iran's human rights record.

That bill was vetoed by the Guardian Council, a 12-man body dominated by conservative clerics whose job it is to ensure legislation conforms to Islamic Sharia law.

Iran's clerical establishment has promoted marriage as a means to combat what it calls immorality amongst youth.

The Expediency Council is charged with arbitrating in disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council.

The arbitration body ruling does not change the age at which children can get married - nine for girls and 14 for boys - but says girls below the age of 13 and boys younger than 15 need their parents' permission and the approval of a "righteous court".

Reformists said the new law did not protect children since most of those who married at a young age did so under pressure from their parents.

European Union countries have pointed to the low legal age of marriage in Iran as an example of its poor human rights.