Iraqi Politicians Consider Law Allowing Legal Marriage for Nine-Year-Old Girls

A draft law being considered by Iraq’s parliament to allow Muslim girls as young as nine to marry has stirred outrage among critics who view it as a state-sanctioned licence “to rape children.”

Conservative Shiite deputies on October 31 proposed an amendment to a 1959 law that set the minimum age for marriage at 18. The proposal, an amendment to Iraq’s personal status law, would allow clerics of Muslim sects to govern marriage contracts.

This follows the belief of some religious sects in Iraq that the wife of Muhammad was aged nine. Therefore they say children of that age can marry, while others believe children can do so when they reach puberty.

The proposed marriage law is known as the Jaafari law, named after a Shia school of Islamic jurisprudence. It is so controversial that the United Nations in Iraq (Unami) has called for wider consultations and for women’s rights to be fully recognised and protected before it is allowed to proceed. Unami stated:

Women and girls in Iraq have suffered violations of their basic human rights and violence in armed conflict, in particular under the terrorist group Daesh. They aspire that the realization of their rights should be prioritized with a view to achieving equality with men. This requires a comprehensive understanding of legal and judicial remedies that sometimes hinder the realization of this equality. There is also a dire need for legal and institutional strategies to eliminate discrimination against women and girls.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert has strongly criticized the Iraqi parliament’s approval, in principle, of the draft law. Nauert likened the pending Iraqi legislation to the practices of the Islamic State.

This is not the first time a bill proposing child marriage has been presented for debate in Iraq.

As Breitbart News reported, a similar move was made in 2014. On that occasion, Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammari, a top government official, proposed the controversial law change.

That earlier, more extreme version of the bill, provoked an international outcry because it also restricted women’s rights in terms of divorce, parenting and inheritance.

Opposition to the current proposals has so far concentrated on their impact on child marriage.

A petition signed by activists from civil society organisations, gathered in Sulaymaniyah earlier this month, 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.

A final date for the vote on the proposal has yet to be set.

UNICEF has reported that the top five countries with the highest rates of child marriage are Niger (75%), Chad (72%), Mali (71%), Bangladesh (64%), and Guinea (63%). All five are Islamic-majority states.

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