Iraq: Proposed Child Marriage Law Would Effectively Legalize Rape
Friday, March 28, 2014 11:10 AM

A bill that would allow girls as young as 8 years and 8 months old to be married against their will has been approved by Iraq's Council of Ministers. The law, known as the Jaafari Personal Status Law, has been described by activists as representing a serious violation of girls' and women's human rights because it would leave young girls vulnerable to physical, psychological, and sexual violence. In addition to lowering the legal age for marriage, the proposed law would allow marital sex regardless of the wife’s consent, legalizing marital rape of girls and young women and forcing them to live with their rapist. Additionally, the bill stipulates that the only person authorized to accept a marriage proposal is a girl’s father, stripping girls and their mothers of any right to give or withhold consent. It would restrict women’s movement outside the home, and allow for polygamy. Marriage of girls under 18 is already on the rise in Iraq, growing from 15% of marriages in 1997 to 25% of marriages in 2011, according to Iraqi government statistics.

The Jaafari Personal Status Law may also have far reaching consequences for Iraqi society. The Jaafari law was introduced as a way to create separate laws for Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq, further dividing the society and paving the way for separate judicial systems for different religious groups. The Jaafari Law is based on the majority Shiite religious views and some argue it has been introduced as a political campaign strategy to rally the formally oppressed majority group to “remedy the injustices of the past”. If approved by Parliament later this year, the Jaafari Law will negatively impact Iraqi society and it will have dangerous consequences for women and girls in the country.

Compiled from: Yacoub, Sameer and Salaheddin, Sinan, Iraq Child Marriage Bill Would Allow Girls to Wed, Severely Limit Women’s Rights, Huffington Post (March 17, 2014); Chulov, Martin, Iraq child-marriage bill sparks outrage among human rights groups, The Guardian (March 20, 2014).