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Draft law allowing 9-year-olds to marry causes protests in Iraq

By Justin King     Mar 9, 2014 in World
Bagdad - Draft legislation has been approved by the Shi’ite led cabinet that defines girls as reaching puberty at age nine, thereby making them eligible for marriage. The proposal has received stiff opposition from secular groups within the country.
The proposed legislation is called the Ja’afari Law and provides for child brides as well as grants automatic custody of children to their father. The law is named after the Sixth Shi’ite Imam Ja’afar al-Sadiq.
Secular groups, including a group of two dozen women, have staged protests in opposition to the proposal. In practice the girls are typically married off to men 20 years their senior. The Iraqi women held a protest in Bagdad on International Women’s Day and shouted
On this day of women, women of Iraq are in mourning.
The United Nations has condemned the draft that was approved on February 25th. The approved draft must still be approved by the parliament. Similar legislation was attempted under the U.S. occupation in 2003, but angered secular sections of the populace. The 2003 attempt was overruled by U.S. occupation administrator, Paul Brenner. An Iraqi human rights activist, Hanaa Eduar, said
Kesari Khattri  17  of Lekhpharsa VDC  Surkhet District  speaks with Peace Fellow Heather Webb about...
Kesari Khattri, 17, of Lekhpharsa VDC, Surkhet District, speaks with Peace Fellow Heather Webb about her marriage at the age of 15 and childbirth at the age of 17.
Advocacy Project
We believe that this is a crime against humanity. It would deprive a girl of her right to live a normal childhood.
The proposed legislation highlights the divisions in Iraq. Currently Iraq’s protections for women are heralded as some of the most progressive in the Middle East. Religious Shi’ites in the country have stated that the protections of women violate Sharia law. In Yemen, the practice is widespread and in 2012, Dr. Jamela Saleh Alraiby, the Yemeni Deputy Minister of Public Health and Population wrote an impassioned statement:
In Yemen, we lose many young girls, either from violent sex/rape (such as in the case of Elham Assi, a 13-year-old girl who bled to death after being forced to have intercourse with her 23 year-old husband) or from complications of early pregnancy and child birth (such as Samah, a 12-year-old girl who lost her life while giving birth to a baby girl in a health facility, and no one could save her). In other cases of difficult pregnancies or childbirth, many young girls suffer with life-long disabilities (such as fistula) and are then rejected from their families as a result.
The sponsor of the legislation, Shia cleric Mohamed Al-Yakoubi, is the religious leader of the Al-Fahdila Party. He believes the current laws are not in accordance with Islam. He has stated
Shias cannot be committed to verdicts that violate the Sharia. This is not a matter for compromise or bargaining.
It should be noted that the terms Shia and Shi’ite are used to describe the same sect of Islam. It should also be noted that many sects of Islam oppose the idea of child brides. Even within the Shia, there is dissention over the practice. One such notable Shia is Mehdi Hasan, who has vocally opposed the child marriages.
More about child brides, Child abuse, shi'ite, Iraq