Despite the presence of some laws against child marriage. In Iraq, it is a frequently used practice that leaves many young girls at risk. Iraq’s Personal Status Law (enacted in 1959) states that you must be over 18 to be legally married. However, more than 1/5 marriages are under the legal age.
The laws are not being enforced due to the extreme destabilization that conflict has caused to the region. State institutions have been weakened, and therefore do not have the resources to effectively manage and curb the growth of child marriage. The growth of child marriage is effectively normalizing the practice of pedophilia.
Excuses Given for Child Marriage
Child marriage is most common in southern regions and in more rural areas, where poverty is more prevalent. Children are often sent away to be married in the belief that they will be potentially better off, due to families being displaced by conflict or living in extreme poverty. Forced marriage can also be financially beneficial to the family of the young girl in question. Marrying their daughter can be a method of paying off debt to another family. And financial exchanges are often made in order to obtain a bride.
Some families marry off their young daughter as a way of trying to protect them from rape in the midst of the current conflict in Iraq. Rape is often weaponized by soldiers in the region. However, the byproduct of this is that marital and underage rape is extremely common. Alongside this, there is the issue that many women are forced by their families to marry their rapist. If they are not already married, in order to protect their honor. This is because rape charges can be legally dropped if the offender and victim marry. This often leaves women and children trapped in an abusive marriage.
Child Marriage and the Law
As previously mentioned, child marriage is technically against Iraq Law, due to the Iraqui Personal Status Legislation. This law states that if a man has been found to have married a minor, they face a fine and up to a year in prison. However, the legal enforcement system in Iraq has suffered greatly from the conflict.
There was an attempt in November 2017 to pass a law that would lower the voting age from 18 to 9 in most regions. This was justified via the argument that marriage would act as a form of protection. Despite the fact that in reality a large amount of child abuse takes place within these arrangements. The attempt was only stopped by one vote – that of the Prime Minister at the time. Some religious leaders claim that when a girl hits puberty she is “ready” for marriage – and that age is not a factor. This puts many underage girls at extreme risk.
The Iraqi Kurdistan Region successfully enacted a law in 2011 that criminalized child marriage and forced marriage. This resulted in a noticeable decline in the number of forced marriages in that region. A combination of law and enforcement is required to protect children from the disastrous consequences of child marriage.
Child Marriage Becoming the Legalization of Pedophilia
Lowering the age of consent for marriage, as was suggested in 2017, would effectively legalize pedophilia as long as it took place inside a marriage arrangement. This violates international human rights laws and conventions. As well as putting a huge number of young girls at significant risk. Underage girls within marriage are more likely to experience cases of domestic violence and abuse compared to those of legal age. They also have worse future prospects as they are often forced to leave education early. Without any qualifications. This further entraps them in the marriage.
Child brides are also at a far higher risk of health complications, as they very often become pregnant when they are still significantly underage. Both the mother and child face extremely high chances of pregnancy and birth-related issues, and other health complications in the short and long term future.
Changes Required to Protect Children from Forced Marriage
Due to the continuing issues and conflict in the area, children and women are unable to effectively seek help when they become involved in a child marriage situation or abusive relationship. Not only does there need to be stronger laws surrounding child marriage, but support centers need to be available for those in need, and laws protecting the rights of young girls to obtain a full education need to be introduced. Education gives young girls a greater chance at independence.
Overall, child marriage is an issue that urgently needs to be tackled in Iraq (and all over the world), as it is allowing the exploitation of children, and is socially normalizing pedophilia within marriage.
Image: Izzah Zainab