Baghdad: A proposal in Iraq’s parliament to scrap the minimum age for Muslim girls to marry has stirred outrage among critics who view it as a licence “to rape children”.
Conservative Shiite deputies on October 31 proposed an amendment to a 1959 law that set the minimum age for marriage at 18.
The initial legislation, passed shortly after the fall of the Iraqi monarchy, transferred the right to decide on family affairs from religious authorities to the state and its judiciary.
But now the new bill looks to go back on that — and would authorise the marriage of any girl if it had the consent of the religious leaders from the Shiite or Sunni Muslim community to which her parents belong.
In effect, it makes “the opinion of the Shiite and Sunni ulema (scholars) obligatory for judges”, said a liberal independent MP, Faiq al-Sheikh, a member of Iraq’s legal commission.
Historically, he recalled, Islam has allowed the marriage of pubescent girls from the age of nine.
Social media has been flooded with criticism of the parliamentary bill, ranging from outright indignation to black humour, with anger also rife on the streets.
In defence of the bill sponsored by his party, Ammar Toama, who heads the Shiite parliamentary group Fadila, said it “makes no mention of age and stipulates only that she (bride) must be pubescent, capable of deciding, and have the accord of her tutor and a judge”.
Under the Iraqi constitution, citizens have to declare their religious affiliation on certain issues. Marriage and inheritance terms for Shiites differ from those for Sunnis.
Toama said the bill’s aim was to bring the law “in line with the beliefs” of practising Muslims.
But foreign missions in Baghdad and the United Nations have been up in arms, warning against institutionalised discrimination against women and girls.
Majeda al-Tamimi, a woman legislator, said she was confident that many of her colleagues in parliament would oppose the bill.