It’s a huge setback for women’s rights and brings the prospect of misery to millions of Iraqi women and children. On April 30, the Iraqi parliament is expected to pass new marital rules for its majority Shia community with a law criticized by human rights activists as “legalized inequality.”
Here’s why: under the new legislation, children in Iraq could be legally married before the age of nine. Yes, you read that correctly: nine.
The new law would also prevent women from leaving the house without their husband’s consent, automatically grant custody of children older than two to their father in divorce cases, and prevent Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims.
Marital rape is also condoned by a clause that states women must comply with their husband’s sexual demands. Men are given guardianship rights over women, and the law establishes rules governing polygamous relationships.
A Giant Step Backwards Into the Dark Ages
In other words, it would mean a giant step backwards into the dark ages for women, and for men. It is clearly a cowardly move made by men who fear the power of women, but knowing that won’t help the women of Iraq.
Current Iraqi law sets the legal age for marriage at 18 without parental approval and states girls as young as 15 can be married only with a guardian’s approval. It does not allow for special provisions according to sect.
All that would change under this legislation, known as the Jaafari law, which introduces rules almost identical to those of neighboring Iran, a Shia-dominated Islamic theocracy.
As Hanaa Edwar, a well-known activist and head of the charity Al-Amal (“Hope” in Arabic), puts it: “It turns women into tools for sexual enjoyment. It deletes all their rights.”
Child Marriage in Iraq
Washington Post explains that the rate at which Iraqi women married before age 18 was down to 15 percent at the time of the U.S. invasion. Since then, the tide has turned:
In 2007, Al-Monitor [a Middle Eastern publication] says, 21 percent of young Iraqi women reported they were married as children. Six years later, the Population Reference Bureau determined that “the decline in early marriages has stopped.”
In fact, the rate had risen. By mid-2013, more than one-fourth of females were married as children, and 5 percent had been wed before age 15.
In the face of this depressing news, I was heartened to hear Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minster and now a special U.N. envoy for global education, expressing his determination to get 57 million more children worldwide into school by the end of 2015.
Speaking last week on PBS, Brown explained that 57 million is the number of children who are not going to go to school today or any other day.
Some of them are in child labor. Some of them are girl brides. Some of them have simply not got schools they can go to. Some of them are girls who the Taliban is preventing from going to school.
But it is relatively inexpensive to pay for the education of a young child. For $6 billion, if we could find the extra funds next year, we could get almost all of these children to school. And there is no technical or scientific breakthrough that’s needed to do this. We know what it is we have got to do.
There are 10 million children who are married off before the age of 14 or 15. There are 15 million children who are working full-time at the moment, and they’re under 14. But I see great change in the attitude of young people.
Brown went on to describe his recent visit to Pakistan, where he discovered to his delight that young women and girls no longer want their country to be seen by the rest of the world as a country that is failing to get girls to school. Rather, they want to be known by their successes and girls getting into school, and the girls themselves are fighting for their civil rights.
Take Action Now
If you are horrified by the idea of a nine-year-old being forced into marriage, please sign our petition immediately, urging the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki, to stop Iraq from legalizing child marriage and a lifetime of domestic and sexual slavery for girls and women, and to strike down the Jaafari Personal Status Law today.
Photo Credit: istock