Iraqi Parliament Again Considers Reducing Legal Marriage Age

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Baghdad – Mohammed Al-Hikmat

The so-called “Jaffari Law”, dropped by parliament in 2014 after strong opposition from both political powers and human rights organisations, is back in front of Baghdad lawmakers.

The bid to amend the Civil Status Law, instituted in 1959, was resurrected by parliament in late May, with the Speaker directing both the Legal and Endowment Parliamentary Committees to consider the proposed changes.

The Jaffari Law, proposed by Islamic party Al-Fadhila, went before MPs in 2014 after it was considered by Iraq’s Council of Ministries in February of the same year. Once in parliament, the amendment attracted widespread objections as parts contradicted civil laws, preventing it from passing.

Sources close to the situation have told Yalla: “The new amendment will legalise a number of religious provisions, especially with regards to marriage.”

Leaked information shows the amendment would allow the departments of Shiite and Sunni Affairs to define the legal age for marriage. According to Iraqi and legal norms, the legal age of marriage goes hand in hand with reaching adulthood.

However, the ages of marriage according to Shia and Sunni teachings range between 9 and 17 years, meaning that the new law could allow families marry off their 9-year-old daughters.

Legal expert Atheer Jawad Jabar explained: “The original law does not need an amendment as it guarantees equal rights for all, but what is happening today is an attempt to exploit people’s lack of knowledge of the law.

“The 1959 Personal Status Law gave all social makings and sects the right to decide how they go on about issues related to their lives, such as marriage; but the law also prohibits the marriage of women under 18 years of age.”

Jabar continued: “Merging the original law with Jaffari’s Personal Status Law would lead to serious sectarian problems. Whereas the original law gives all sects the right to marriage according to the religious teaching they follow.”

Joining in criticism of the amendment, MP Aliya Ensayef said: “The new project is not an amendment to the old law, rather than an attempt to manipulate the legislation for electoral gains and to win over a specific group of people.”

Ensayef told Yalla: “Article 41 of the Iraqi constitution is complicated and controversial [it states that Iraqis are free to decide their personal affairs according to their own religion, sect and personal choices] and that is what should be amended, not the law.”

And in a press release seen by Yalla, MP Razan Dler said: “Certain political blocks want to bring back the Jaffari Law under a different pretext. They changed the title of the legislation, but preserved all the articles of the Jaffari Law, including the one that allows underage marriage.”

Further damning the proposed amendment, Dler continued: “These political blocs want to take Iraq’s social norms back to times past with their unjust decisions. Instead of preserving women’s status and enable them to have a role in state institutions.” He called on the parliamentary Endowment Committee to “not the support this legislation and prove its ability to keep up with current times.”

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