Jaafari Personal Status Law Saving Women’s Rights And Dignity – Really?
Iraq is on the verge of legalizing child marriage once the Jaafari Personal Status Law comes into force. A banner advertising this new Jaafari Personal Status Law addressed to Iraqi women says boldly: “The Jaafari Personal Status Law saves my rights and my dignity”. But many do not agree, with critics saying this Jaafari Personal Status Law is a regressive step, bringing back child marriage which was officially banned in the mid 1970s.
The Previous Prohibition
Long ago, in the period following Iraq’s independence, child marriage (fasliyah) was common in the hills and plains of Iraq. But fasliyah was officially banned in the mid 1970s as Iraq moved towards modernity and secularization.
When fasliyah was banned, many had high hopes. Al-Monitor commented: “This decree [banning fasliyah] constituted the first step toward a civilized Iraqi community,” reports the Middle East publication Al-Monitor, “which would put an end to the failures of the tribal… society”.
Child marriage declined after that. The Central Organization for Statistics reported that by 2004, only 15% of Iraqi women were married as children. But then came the war, and by 2007, Al-Monitor said 21% of Iraqi women were married as children.
Now the Population Reference Bureau has confirmed this reversal of trend, saying that “the decline in early marriages has stopped”. But that’s an understatement. The truth is that the trend in child marriage has reversed, and is climbing.
By mid-2013, 25% of Iraqi girls were married as children, with 5% before 15 years of age.
The Jaafari Personal Status Law
Billed as the law to save women’s “rights and dignity”, the Jaafari Personal Status Law has been criticized as doing just the opposite. This Jaafari Personal Status Law allows boys to marry as young as 15 years and girls can marry as young as 9. But there is also a provision to allow girls below 9 years of age to marry with a parent’s approval. So in effect there is no minimum age for a girl to marry.
Among the other provisions of the Jaafari Personal Status Law is one that prevents women from leaving the house without their husband’s consent. This effective makes the house like a sort of prison.
Further, this Jaafari Personal Status Law grants automatic custody of children above 2 years of age to their father in divorce cases.
Marital rape is now legalized under the Jaafari Personal Status Law.
Lastly, non-Muslim girls are now prohibited from marrying Muslim men.
Ayad Allawi, a former Iraqi prime minister voiced his outrage of the Jaafari Personal Status Law this way, saying: “It allows for girls to be married from nine years of age and even younger. There are other injustices [in the law] too”.
Joe Stork from Human Rights Watch said: “Passage of the Jaafari law would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq’s women and girls. This personal status law would only entrench Iraq’s divisions while the government claims to support equal rights for all”.
Women’s rights activist Basma al-Khateeb said: “Iraq is in conflict and undergoing a breakdown of the rule of law. The passage of the Jaafari law sets the ground for legalized inequality”.
Al-Monitor report other critics as fearing that the passage into law of the Jaafari Personal Status Law will “lead to the fragmentation of [the] national identity and divide Iraqis into various religious entities that are separate from one another both socially and legally”.
Think About It
Why did Iraq’s Council of Ministers approved this Jaafari Personal Status Law? Some critics viewed this move as an attempt to appease conservative Shiites before upcoming elections. If this is true, then should politicians make use of young girls to achieve their political ends? And why call this Jaafari Personal Status Law as a law to save women’s “rights and dignity” when it is not the case? Will Parliament approve this? Should it?