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Iraqi law would be a huge setback for girl's and women's rights

BAGHDAD (AP) - A contentious draft law being considered in Iraq could open the door to girls as young as nine getting married and would require wives to submit to sex on their husband's whim, provoking outrage from rights activists and many Iraqis who see it as a step backward for women's rights.

The measure, aimed at creating different laws for Iraq's majority Shiite population, could further fray the country's divisions amid some of the worst bloodshed since the sectarian fighting that nearly ripped the country apart after the U.S.-led invasion. It also comes as more and more children under 18 get married in the country.

"That law represents a crime against humanity and childhood," prominent Iraqi human rights activist Hana Adwar told The Associated Press. "Married underage girls are subjected to physical and psychological suffering.

Iraqi law now sets the legal age for marriage at 18 without parental approval. Girls as young as 15 can be married only with a guardian's approval.

The proposed new measure, known as the Jaafari Personal Status Law, is based on the principles of a Shiite school of religious law founded by Jaafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shiite imam. Iraq's Justice Ministry late last year introduced the draft measure to the Cabinet, which approved it last month despite strong opposition by rights groups and activists.

The draft law does not set a minimum age for marriage. Instead, it mentions an age in a section on divorce, setting rules for divorces of girls who have reached the age of 9 years in the lunar Islamic calendar. It also says that's the age girls reach puberty. Since the Islamic calendar year is 10 or 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, that would be the equivalent of 8 years and 8 months old. The bill makes the father the only parent with the right to accept or refuse the marriage proposal.

Critics of the bill believe that its authors slipped the age into the divorce section as a backhanded way to allow marriages of girls that young. Already, government statistics show that nearly 25 percent of marriages in Iraq involved someone under the age of 18 in 2011, up from 21 percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1997. Planning Ministry spokesman Abdul-Zahra Hendawi said the practice of underage marriage is particularly prevalent in rural areas and some provinces where illiteracy is high.

Also under the proposed measure, a husband can have sex with his wife regardless of her consent. The bill also prevents women from leaving the house without their husband's permission, would restrict women's rights in matters of parental custody after divorce and make it easier for men to take multiple wives.

Parliament must still ratify the bill before it becomes law. That is unlikely to happen before parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30, though the Cabinet support suggests it remains a priority for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration. Al-Maliki is widely expected to seek a third term.

Baghdad-based analyst Hadi Jalo suggested that election campaigning might be behind the proposal.

"Some influential Shiite politicians have the impression that they should do their best to make any achievement that would end the injustice that had been done against the Shiites in the past," Jalo said.

The formerly repressed Shiite majority came to power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime. Since then, Shiite religious and political leaders have encouraged followers to pour in millions into streets for religious rituals, a show of their strength.

Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari, a Shiite, has brushed off the criticism of the bill. His office introduced a companion bill that calls for the establishment of special Shiite courts that would be tied to the sect's religious leadership.

Al-Shimmari insists that the bill is designed to end injustices faced by Iraqi women in past decades, and that it could help prevent illicit child marriage outside established legal systems.

"By introducing this draft law, we want to limit or prevent such practices," al-Shimmari said.

But Sunni female lawmaker Likaa Wardi believes it violates women's and children's rights and creates divisions in society.

"The Jaffari law will pave the way to the establishments of courts for Shiites only, and this will force others sects to form their own courts. This move will widen the rift among the Iraqi people," Wardi said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch also strongly criticized the law this week.

"Passage of the Jaafari law would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq's women and girls," deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said in a statement. "This personal status law would only entrench Iraq's divisions while the government claims to support equal rights for all."

It is unclear how much support the bill enjoys among Iraqi Shiites, but Jalo, the analyst, believes that it would face opposition from secular members of the sect.

Qais Raheem, a Shiite government employee living in eastern Baghdad, said the draft bill contradicts the principles of a modern society.

"The government officials have come up with this backward law instead of combating corruption and terrorism," said Raheem who has four children, including two teenage girls. "This law legalizes the rape and we should all reject it."


Follow Sinan Salaheddin on Twitter at www.twitter.com/sinansm.

Join the discussion

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umatyly37 March 15 2014 at 8:19 PM

Poor little girls.....what a religion.

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jpmickanis March 15 2014 at 9:31 PM


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meem104433 March 15 2014 at 1:57 PM

Disgusting and perverted!!!!!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
naps755 March 15 2014 at 1:55 PM

amazing; should teach america a lesson, brave servicemembers gave life and limb for the idea of a try at freedom for this country, and what do we see, the resuragence of 12th century mentality.

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JANE March 15 2014 at 9:54 PM

Nothing more than sexual deviants. Women have to be completely covered because the men cannot control their hormones. They will tell you that women are for having babies, boys are for having sex. Enough said.

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1 reply
lflz28 JANE March 15 2014 at 10:44 PM

"Women have to be completely covered because the men cannot control their hormones"
Go back and study the history of this now Religious tradition. You will find that it's roots derived from Arabs pillaging villages and kidnapping woman and young girls then covering them so they could not be identified along with other traditions like walking 10 feet behind, Not talking to a man other than the husband. Using religion to justify such things has been done for thousands of years..

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rwitchwoman63 March 15 2014 at 1:50 PM

Way to go Iraq!!!!...Just goes to show what an ignorant country you truly are!!!!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
wstarhopper March 15 2014 at 10:03 PM

Hey when did Warren Jeffs convert to Isalem

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Perry March 15 2014 at 10:10 PM

Ok, my daughter was playing with her Barbie dolls and easy bake kitchen at 9 years old. I can not imagine her married and having sex, this makes me want to vomit! Are these child molesters for real? No one in their right mind can feel good about having sex with a minor as young as 9 or any minor unless they are very sick. These people are very sick! This is the most disgusting thing that I have ever heard of. Perhaps they are such loosers and cant find a real women of age to hook up with. I would say that this is an atrocity and if this law is passed we need to step in and save these poor children from this nonsense. I would!

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2 replies
uofp06 Perry March 15 2014 at 10:55 PM

Well said. I couldn't agree more with your statements. Those men must be perverted to even believe that something like this would even be acceptable by anyone, much less a child. I teach nine year olds and sex and marriage are not even a part of their vocabulary. I am horrified by this entire idea and so thankful that my family is not muslim.

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Ceil Perry March 15 2014 at 11:21 PM

It is a country where a woman who is raped can go to jail if she refuses to marry her rapist..a small girl child is wed to a man old enough to be her grandfather. What a religion.................

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Perry March 15 2014 at 10:11 PM

This is very disturbing!

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photocountry March 15 2014 at 1:43 PM

What a crazy country Iraq is. I bet only men voted on that law?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
blueirishbird photocountry March 15 2014 at 2:10 PM

Of course !!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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