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New Iraqi law would allow girls to be married aged nine

Human Rights Watch says law would also legitimize marital rape

<p>Protesters demonstrate against the proposed law in Baghdad on International Women's Day</p>

Protesters demonstrate against the proposed law in Baghdad on International Women's Day

  • Human Rights Watch, Baghdad
  • Iraq
  • March 12, 2014
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Statement from Human Rights Watch: Iraq's Council of Ministers should withdraw a new draft Personal Status Law and ensure that Iraq’s legal framework protects women and girls in line with its international obligations. The pending legislation would restrict women’s rights in matters of inheritance and parental and other rights after divorce, make it easier for men to take multiple wives, and allow girls to be married from age nine.

The draft law, called the Jaafari Personal Status Law, is based on the principles of the Jaafari school of Shia religious jurisprudence, founded by Imam Jaafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shia imam. Approved by the Council of Ministers on February 25, 2014, it must now be approved by the parliament to become law.

“Passage of the Jaafari law would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq’s women and girls,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This personal status law would only entrench Iraq’s divisions while the government claims to support equal rights for all.”

The draft law would cover Iraq’s Shia citizens and residents, a majority of the population of 36 million. It includes provisions that prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, legalizes marital rape by stating that a husband is entitled to have sex with his wife regardless of her consent, and prevents women from leaving the house without permission from their husbands. The law would automatically grant custody over any child age two or older to the father in divorce cases, lower the marriage age to nine for girls and fifteen for boys, and even allow girls younger than nine to be married with a parent’s approval.

Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari introduced the draft law to the Council of Ministers on October 27, 2013. In December, the council said it would postpone considering the draft until after legislative elections scheduled for April 30, 2014, and after the supreme Shia religious authority (marji’iya) approved the draft, which it has not yet done. But the council went ahead and approved it on February 25 despite strong opposition from rights advocates and some religious leaders.

Iraq’s current Personal Status Law (Law 188 of 1959), which applies to all Iraqis regardless of sect, sets the legal age for marriage at 18, but allows for a judge to permit girls as young as 15 to be married in “urgent” cases. In December 2012, the Lebanese news outlet Al-Safir reported that rates of early marriage of girls had risen drastically in Iraq in the previous decade. In 2013, the Population Reference Bureau, an international organization, reported that “the decline in early marriage has stopped in … Iraq,” citing its own statistics that 25 percent of girls marry before age 18 and 6 percent before age 15. The draft law’s provisions would legalize, rather than try to reverse, Iraq’s growing child marriage problem, Human Rights Watch said.

The draft law violates the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW), which Iraq ratified in 1986, by giving fewer rights to women and girls on the basis of their gender. It also violates the Convention on Rights of the Child, which Iraq ratified in 1994, by legalizing child marriage, putting girls at risk of forced and early marriage and susceptible to sexual abuse, and not requiring decisions about children in divorce cases to be made in the best interests of the child.

Full Story: Iraq: Don’t Legalize Marriage for 9-Year-Olds

Source: Human Rights Watch

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