A terrible step backwards in women’s fight for equality overseas. Iraq’s Council of Ministers has drafted a law, The Jaafari Personal Status Law, which will be voted on April 30. If passed the law would:
- Legalize marital rape
- Grant men the authority to marry girls as young as age nine
- Prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims
- Require wives to submit to sex on their husband’s whim
- Prevent women from leaving the house without the permission of their husbands
- Give automatic custody in divorce cases to fathers.
- Only father have the right to accept or refuse a marriage proposal
- Discontinues temporary marriages for sexual pleasure (called zawaj al-misyar or “traveller’s marriages”)
This law was formed to appease the Shi’a Muslim community in Iraq, which have a stronghold majority in the country at 36 million. It’s argued that Iraq’s current law that women can only marry at the age of 18 religiously discriminates against the Shi’a Muslims. As it stands, UNICEF estimates that more than 24 percent of Iraqi women are married by age 18, and nearly five percent are married by age 15.
If passed before Iraq general elections, the law will violate the UN Convention on Rights of the Child, which Iraq signed and its own constitution.
To understand how widespread this issue is in the world and not just potentially in Iraq, here are some facts:
- In developing countries, more than 60 million women aged 20-24 were married/in union before the age of 18. Over thirty-one million of them live in South Asia (UNICEF estimates based on MICS, DHS, and other national surveys, 1987-2006).
- In countries like Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Niger more than 60 per cent of women entered into marriage or into a union before their eighteenth birthdays (MICS, DHS, and other national surveys, 1987-2006).
- Girls living in the poorest 20 per cent of households are more likely to get married at an early age than those living in the wealthiest 20 per cent. In Peru 45 per cent of women were married by age 18 among the poorest 20 per cent, compared to 5 per cent among the richest 20 per cent (UNICEF estimates based on DHS 2000).
- Women with primary education are significantly less likely to be married/in union as children than those who received no education. In Zimbabwe, 48 per cent of women who had attended primary school had been married by the age of 18, compared to 87 per cent of those who had not attended school (UNICEF estimates based on DHS 1999).