Iraq's draft child marriage law seen as political stunt - and sign of times

Thu Apr 17, 2014 9:55am EDT
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By Raheem Salman

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Proposals that would legalize the marriage of nine-year-old Iraqi girls are unlikely to become law, but indicate the growing role of religion in a country some fear is going down the path of neighboring theocracy Iran.

Based on Shi'ite Islamic jurisprudence, the Ja'afari Law's advocates say it would bring regulation of personal status - comprising family law, wills and inheritance - into line with sharia religious law.

It describes girls as reaching puberty at nine, making them fit for marriage, grants fathers sole guardianship of their children from the age of two, and entitles a husband to insist on sexual intercourse with his wife whenever he desires.

Iraq's own clerical establishment does not back the bill, making its chance of success very slim. Critics say the draft is all about short-term political advantage, as Shi'ite Islamist parties compete with each other for votes in the run-up to April 30 elections in a highly-charged sectarian atmosphere.

"It's a completely shameless political stunt," said Haider Ala Hamoudi, associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh who writes on Iraqi, Middle Eastern and Islamic Law.

Parliament adjourns this month for the national elections, so the bill will have to be taken up again by the next government, which is expected to take months to form.

The proposed legislation has nonetheless drawn the ire of secular and women's activists who fear their rights have been steadily eroded in Iraq in the years following the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Critics say the law, which would apply only to the country's Shi'ite majority, also institutionalizes religious divisions.   Continued...