Iraq ready to legalise childhood marriage

Children in Iraq could be legally married before the age of nine under sweeping legislation tabled on Tuesday that introduces new religious restrictions on women’s rights.

As almost its last act before elections at the end of the month, the Iraqi parliament looks likely to pass new marital rules for its majority Shia community with a draft law criticised by human rights activists as “legalized inequality.”

The legislation has been approved by the governing coalition in an effort to attract support from Shia Muslims in the April 30 vote.

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.

But the legislation, known as the Jaafari law, introduces rules almost identical to those of neighbouring Iran, a Shia-dominated Islamic theocracy.

Ayad Allawi, a former Iraqi prime minister, warned on Tuesday that approval of the law would lead to the abuse of women. “It allows for girls to be married from nine years of age and even younger,” he said. “There are other injustices [contained in it] too.”

While there is no set minimum age for marriage, the section on divorce includes rules for divorces of girls who have reached the age of 9 years…

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