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.
The measure, aimed at creating different laws for Iraq’s majority Shi’ite 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 US-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 said.
“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 Shi’ite school of religious law founded by Jaafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shi’ite 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 nine 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 eight years, eight months old.
The bill makes the father the only parent with the right to accept or refuse the marriage proposal.
Also under the proposed measure, a husband can have sex with his wife regardless of her consent.
The bill 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.