Child marriage could become legal in Iraq despite global outrage

Child marriage

A girl waits as Iraqi women living in Iran vote in the elections

Child marriage could be about to become law in Iraq as the country votes in its general election.

The draft law, which describes girls as reaching puberty at nine and states they are ready for marriage, was approved by the current cabinet six weeks ago.

Iraqi justice minister Hassan al-Shimari, who proposed the draft, is a member of the Islamist Fadila (Virtue) party allied with Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki, who is seeking a third term in office.

Many feel the Islamists are using the law to court votes from religious Shia ahead of the elections.

The current legal age of marriage in Iraq is 18 and the potential reduction has horrified Iraqi women’s groups and the international community.

International Women’s Day was declared a day of mourning in Iraq during a protest against the legislation in Bagdad on March 8.

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s representative to Iraq, also condemned the move, saying the law “risks constitutionally protected rights for women”.

Based on Shi’ite Islamic jurisprudence, what is called the Ja’afari personal status law would also grant fathers sole guardianship of their female children from the age of two, as well as legalising marital rape.

Even without the new legislation, the number of child marriages in Iraq is rising.

In 1997, 15 percent of marriages involved someone under 18, according to Iraqi government figures. In 2012 the figure had jumped to 25 per cent and almost five per cent are married by the age of 15.

If upheld it would also be a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iraq is a signatory.

Iraq’s current personal status laws enshrine women’s rights regarding marriage, inheritance and child custody and are often held up as the most progressive in the Middle East.

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