- Girls as young as 9 could be allowed to marry in Iraq
- Proposed changes to the law may lower marriage age and promote polygamy
- The modifications also threaten to stir sectarian tensions by imposing Shia jurisprudence on all Iraqis
- "Female infanticide" is how one protester described the suggested law
by Rosie Alfatlawi
Child marriage may soon be legal in Iraq.
Troops have only just liberated the final major ISIS stronghold, but now Iraq’s parliament is voting on changes opponents say are reminiscent of the extremist group.
Baghdad’s House of Representatives voted “in principle” on Wednesday to approve amendments to the Personal Status Law that could allow girls as young as 9 marry.
Currently 18 is the official marriage age, although a judge can allow individuals as young as 15 to wed.
In addition, the amended law would facilitate polygamy, with men no longer needing a judge’s permission to marry multiple wives.
The move has provoked widespread anger in Iraq, with protesters marching on the capital on Friday to express their opposition.
One protester, Jabra al-Taee, described the proposed modification as “the assassination of childhood," Irfaa Sawtak reported.
It is “female infanticide,” she added. “She is just 9 years old - which means she hasn’t lived her childhood, and she won’t get a chance to live her youth, because the law will impose upon her a life she knows nothing about.”
The suggested modification is particularly controversial as it would apply Shia Jaafari jurisprudence on all Iraqis for personal status issues, which include marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance.
Around 60 percent of Iraqis are Shia, while approximately 40 percent are Sunni, excluding small Christian and other minority religious communities, according to the CIA Factbook.
A 2013 attempt to introduce a personal status law based on Jaafari jurisprudence solely for the Shia population failed to get approval.
At the time, Human Rights Watch said: "Passage of the Jaafari law would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq's women and girls.
"This personal status law would only entrench Iraq's divisions while the government claims to support equal rights for all."
Opponents warn the suggested changes could further fuel sectarian tensions in the embattled nation.
"Today we have come out as a first step, to launch our outcry - we, the women and the men who are in solidarity with us - against the proposed changes to the personal status law, about which preliminary voting has taken place within parliament,” a protester, Intisar al-Mayali, told Irfaa Sawtak.
“Unfortunately, we are expressing our discontent with what is included in the change, which would completely violate the personal status law, in addition to dividing Iraqis into sects,” she continued.
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Despite the result of Wednesday’s vote, the modifications put forward have also faced considerable opposition from within parliament.
“This amendment is a setback for the rights of women and works to dismantle the family and to establish sectarianism even within the family,” claimed MP Intisar al-Jabouri who sits on the parliamentary committee on women and children.
MP Farah al-Sarraj said: “[This] will consecrate the laws introduced by ISIS, and violate international human rights laws,” Al-Arab reported.
Meanwhile, “no to the new status law” has taken off as a hashtag on Twitter, as Iraqis push back against the proposal.
“This is an ISIS law which legitimizes child rape” tweeted @NawalJaffar, while @ahmadadnan94 asked if child marriage was to be allowed, then “what is your problem with ISIS?”
@Odayh14 wrote: “The country is engulfed in wars and crises, and more than 40 percent of its people are below the poverty line and no solution has been found. Public debt exceeds 123 billion dollars, and its parliament is busy issuing laws that legitimize the rape of children and child marriage.”
The suggested changes violate child protections set out in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iraq ratified in 1994. Critics also claim that they contravene Iraq's constitution which guarantees freedom of religious belief.