Little girls are in trouble as there’s a new Iraqi law that could legalize marriage for children as young as nine, legalize marital rape, and set women’s rights back 50 years, human rights activists have warned.
The activists are calling on Iraqi ministers to withdraw a draft of the Jafaari Personal Status Law which would allow Muslim clerics to have control over marriage contracts. The bill includes provisions that would legalize marital rape, allow nine-year-old children to marry, and ban Muslims from marrying non-Muslims.
The 2014 version of the bill, which was approved Iraq’s Council of Ministers, is based on the Shia principles of the Jaafari school of jurisprudence, which was founded the sixth Shia Imam, Jaafar al-Sadiq. On November 1, Iraq’s Council of Representatives voted in principle to approve the amendment and the bill was signed 40 parliamentarians. Iraq’s elections will be held in May next year.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the Middle East consultant for the advocacy group Equality Now, warned that the law, which would cover the 36 million Shia citizens living in Iraq, would have a “catastrophic” impact on women’s rights.
Suad told The Guardian: “We are outraged. We will be supporting women in Iraq issuing alerts about the bill. We are also writing letters to the speaker of [parliament] and the president.”
Activists from civil society organizations gathered in the Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah on Sunday, November 12 to present a petition against the bill.
“This new bill to amend the Personal Status Law will authorize 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,” the petition read.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said if the law is approved the Iraqi parliament, it “would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq’s women and girls.”
He added: “This personal status law would only entrench Iraq’s divisions while the government claims to support equal rights for all. It flies in the faces of the Iraqi government’s legal commitments to protect women’s and girls’ rights.”
The United Nations in Iraq has also condemned the bill.
Jan Kubis, the special representative to Iraq of the UN Secretary-General said: “I call upon the Council of Representatives to seize this opportunity…to conduct a wider consultation on the draft amendments in a participatory manner to recommit to and ensure the full respect, protection and fulfillment of women and girls’ rights in Iraq in relation to matrimonial and other matters.”