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Iraq: law could legalise marriage for children as young as nine

The proposal, said activists, would be 'catastrophic for women's rights'

14 November 2017, 4:00pm
(Photo: Euronews)
(Photo: Euronews)
A new law in Iraq, which could legalise marriage for children as young as nine is being described as “catastrophic”.

The proposal, which activists said would set back women’s rights by 50 years, is an amendment to Iraq’s personal status law, which would allow clerics of Muslim sects to govern marriage contracts.

Civil society and women’s rights groups held public demonstrations last weekend, against the amendment, with the United Nations in Iraq calling for wider consultations and for women’s rights to be fully protected.

A more extreme version of this bill was proposed ahead of the elections in 2014 and provoked an international outcry. This version also placed further restrictions on women’s rights, in terms of parenting, inheritance and divorce.

The current proposals, which were approved this month, so far received opposition with regards to their impact on child marriage.

“This bill contradicts international conventions and the national law in Iraq. If it is approved, in effect, each and every religious sect will follow their clerics. It will be catastrophic for women’s rights.

“We are outraged, and we will be supporting women in Iraq by issuing alerts about the bill. We are also writing letters to the speaker of [parliament] and the president,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, of Equality Now.

According to some religious sects, the wife of the prophet Muhammad was aged nine and therefore children of that age can get married. Others believe that marriage should wait till they reach puberty.

“We are fearful we will lose the good laws we have,” said Abu-Dayyeh.

Activists from civil society organisations, who gathered in Sulaymaniyah last Sunday signed a petition, which said:

“This new bill to amend the personal status law will authorise religious men to enforce illegal marriages and force girls under 18 to live with their in-laws. This is a setback to the achievements Iraqi women made and struggled for half a century ago.”

Humans Rights Watch said it was examining the amendment and would be issuing a statement about how far-reaching the law could be.

On 1 November, Iraq’s council of representatives voted, in principle, to approve the new amendment and it has been signed by 40 parliamentarians.

Iraqi elections will be held in May next year.

The amendment states: “It is permitted to conduct a marriage contract for the followers of the Sunni and Shia sects, according to their faith, by those who are permitted to conduct such contracts as directed by the jurists of that faith.”

The legal age for marriage in Iraq is 18, but under the current personal status law, a judge is allowed to permit girls as young as 15 to marry in “urgent” cases.

This already violates child protections under the UN convention on the rights of the child, which Iraq ratified in 1994.

The draft is not yet on the agenda in parliament and the timing of the vote is unclear.

The version of the bill proposed in 2014 included provisions that would have banned Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, legalised rape within marriage, and prevented women from leaving the house without their husband’s permission.