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The Personal Status Law: Fate Of Children Will Pray On Lawmakers’ Consciences

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The Iraqi government’s Council of Representatives are set to approve a draft to a 1959 familial law, a move which is stirring sectarian divisions and the fury of activists in the country.

Foremost in protests against the Personal Status Law – versions of which have been voted on several times in recent years – is the apparent legalisation of child marriage, although an age is not explicitly referred to in the draft bill under consideration.

“It is permitted to conduct a marriage contract for the followers of the Sunni and Shia sects, according to their faith, by those who are permitted to conduct such contracts as directed by the jurists of that faith.” Different sects have different beliefs about the age at which a girl can be married, with some as low as just nine-years-old.

“The mere mention of the phrase [according to their faith] is stirring sectarianism, division, and discrimination,” writes lawyer Dr. Bushra Al Obaidi in an article calling for the striking of the proposal to protect the rights of women and children, and the unity of the family and Iraq’s society.

In favour of the law, Al Furat News quoted lawyer Ali Al Jourani calimed such opposition was “misleading the public” and that the Personal Status Law would not cause harm.

TV personality Mohammad Alawad points out that the law would merely formalise an already common practice, where a marriage to a minor is conducted by a cleric, and registered with the court when she is of age.

“I therefore believe that the amendment to the law will guarantee the rights of minors, but it requires modifications like marriageable age set at 15 and older for the wife to be able to satisfy her husband’s needs.” Alawad concluded: “The law does not obligate anyone to marry a minor girl. It will be up to her and her family to do so.”

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights sees no such nuance however, accusing the Council of Representatives of “legalising the rape of minors and plunging the community into trouble resulting from the proposed amendments to the law.”

Mustafa Sadoun, Observatory chairman, said: “The bill will legalise marriage for minors, polygamy without the wife’s permission, grant men who divorced their wives automatic custody of children over the age of two, force the wife to live with her in-laws. This is a setback to the achievements Iraqi women have made and struggled for for half a century ago through detention, imprisonment, and dismissal from employment.”

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