Some people in Kirkuk have exploited the dire economic conditions of internally displaced people (IDPs) who have taken refuge there. Photo: Farzin Hassan/Rudaw
By Diman Burhan
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Under-aged marriages and polygamy are on the rise as the war with ISIS and the economic crisis continues to impact Iraqi communities, especially those who have been displaced by the violence.
The head of the Iraqi Hiwa Organization, which advocates for women’s rights in Kirkuk, said that some people in the city have exploited the dire economic conditions of internally displaced people (IDPs) who have taken refuge there.
“Following the emergence of the Islamic State (ISIS), the phenomenon of underage marriages and polygamy visibly increased in Kirkuk province,” said Srud Mohammed, who has visited the city’s impoverished neighborhoods, schools, and surrounding villages.
“We visited a middle school in the village of Omar Ibn Khatab where only a handful of girls were not married. The head of the school told us that most of the girls who get married will subsequently be made to drop out of school by relatives of their husbands,” Mohammed added.
He has also toured villages surrounding Hawija and Abbasi where, he said, most of the girls “get married at the age of 11 or 12, and their parents cite bad economic conditions as excuses for this.”
Mohammed thinks that the arrival of IDPs into Kirkuk has impacted Kirkuk’s social makeup, especially the Kurds. “Some Kurdish men make deals with IDPs coming to Kirkuk. They become their guarantors and somehow cover their living costs in return for marrying their girls,” he explained.
How can the court allow these underage marriages? “Most of these girls get married outside the law. They do it in the presence of a cleric not registered with Kirkuk’s Religious Affairs Office. Some of these clerics take 50 to 100 thousand Iraqi Dinars (IQD) in return for these marriages,” Mohammed detailed.
“One of these IDP girls was only 14, and was subjected to a forced marriage with a 40-year-old man,” he added.
He says that these expedient marriages last a very short time. “A man in Kirkuk had married three underage girls in four months, and later divorced them. He is now married for the fourth time,” the head of Hiwa organization said, adding, “The IDPs will give their girls to any man residing in Kirkuk to avoid returning to their hometowns.”
Many of these convenience marriages end up in divorce or separation. According to Hiwa’s figures, 2,000 women have been divorced this year, most of whom were men’s second or third wives.
The head of the Hiwa organization said that they, in collaboration with religious figures, have initiated a campaign to raise awareness about the risks of underage marriage. “We have been talking to the directorate of the crime prevention police to find a mechanism to prevent this phenomenon which will pose a very big social risk on Kirkuk if not stopped,” he said.