In a controversial move, the Iraqi parliament is set to legalize the age of marriage for girls as young as 9 years old and prohibits the marriage of non-Muslim women unless it is temporary.
The law which is called the “Jaaferi law”, was passed by the Council of Ministers last February and was sent to the Parliament to vote on it before its recess for the summer. The new” Jaafari law” will regulate the civil- religious affairs of the Shia community in Iraq and according to local newspapers is identical to Iranian law that regulates matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance.
Iraqi human rights organizations and women rights groups criticized the law as a “set back “ for Iraqi women and called on the government to reconsider its position. The Iraqi law of 1959,however, set the minimum age of marriage for girls as 18 and without the consent of parents, but also can be as young as 15 with parental approval.
Iraqi newspaper Al Mustaqbal which published the proposed law reported that Iraqi women activists protested the new law and called on the parliament to rejected it.
The new law will also prohibit the marriage from non Muslim women unless temporarily . Temporary marriage known in Arabic as “ mut’a” which means “ pleasure” is a certain form or marriage that establishes a legal contract of marriage between two consenting adults for a set period of time that can range from few hours to weeks or months. Although this practice is wildly controversial is practiced within the Shia community in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, it is also considered illegal and prohibited by mainline Islamic legal thought.
Article 49 of the Iraqi constitution stipulates that Iraqi religious groups of Christians and Muslims and others are free to adhere to their religious laws that regulates their marriages, inheritance and divorce.
The Civilized Debate, an organization that defends the civil and human rights of Iraqis through debates reported on its website that there were 6 deaths and 200 cases of divorces of young girls who were married off as minors last year. The website also said that the marriage of young girls in Iraq became prevalent in the aftermath of the American invasion in 2003 when the American Occupation Authority suspended the Iraqi constitution and laws that set the legal punishment for the fathers and the bridegroom of young girls as long as life term in prison. The report also quoted the Iraqi Minister of Planning Ali Shukri stating that “Iraq is the number one country in the world in marriages of young girls.” He also said that as much as 11 percent of total marriages in Iraq were marriages of young girls who typically come from poor and rural backgrounds and were forced into marriage by their parents .
Arranged marriages of young girls to old rich men from the Arab Gulf states is a known practice among poor families in Egypt and was discovered to have taken place in Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Several Arab human rights organization called this marriage a “legalized rape” and called for an end of this practice and to established strict legal punishment for those who practice it and facilitate it.
(Ali Younes is the Editor of the Arab Daily News. Follow him on Twitter @ClearAli)