On Saturday, Iraqi women took to the streets in the capital Baghdad to protest against a proposed law that would permit girls as young as nine years old to be married.

The controversial draft of the ”Al-Jafaari” Personal Status Law, named after the Shi’ite imam Ja’afar al-Sadiq, would also automatically give child custody to fathers. Finally, it would allow husbands to demand sexual intercourse with his wife whenever he asks, effectively legalising marital rape.

The bill in question is based on Shi’ite Islamic jurisprudence and was put forward by Hassan al-Shimari, the Iraqi Justice Minister and prominent member of the Shi’ite Islamist Fadila party. It describes females as reaching puberty by age nine, and would therefore be fit for marriage, while also entailing fathers as the sole guardian of their children when they reach the age of two.

Two dozen women demonstrated on International Women’s Day against the draft law, which was approved by the Iraqi cabinet only a week ago on February 25th. Protestors repeatedly shouted: “On this day of women, women of Iraq are in mourning!”
Human rights activist Hanaa Eduar denounced the legislation as a “crime against humanity” and stated that it “would deprive a girl of her right to live a normal childhood.”

In addition to protests from Iraqi women, there has been much opposition from secularists all over the country against the draft bill, a version of which was struck down back in 2003 when the country was under U.S. occupation.

The United Nations representative to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, also took to Twitter to condemn the proposed legislation, declaring that it “risks constitutionally protected rights for women and international commitment.”

The current law as it stands in Iraq has been seen as one of the most progressive in the region with regard to women’s rights, marriage, child custody, and inheritance. The draft law is now set to be reviewed by parliament ahead of the national elections on April 30th.

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