A schoolgirl passes a banner promoting the Jaafari Personal Status law in 2014. The banner states that the law "saves my rights and my dignity." File photo: Karim Kadim/AP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United Nations in Iraq has criticized a draft Iraqi law that would allow girls as young as nine years old to be married and has asked for wider consultations in order to ensure women’s rights are fully respected and protected.
“I call upon the Council of Representatives to seize this opportunity of the process to amend the Personal Status Law," said Jan Kubis, the special representative to Iraq of the UN Secretary-General through a statement on Thursday.
The draft, based on the Jaafari school of Shiite religious jurisprudence, is again on the table for Iraqi lawmakers. The House of Representatives voted “in principle” on Nov. 1 to approve amendments which could allow girls as young as 9 to marry.
If passed, the law would only apply to the country's Shiite citizens and residents.
Versions of the bill, which was also proposed in 2014, have included provisions that prohibit Muslim men from marrying non-Muslims, legalize marital rape by stating that a husband is entitled to have sex regardless of his wife’s consent, and prevent women from leaving the house without permission from their husbands, according to Human Rights Watch.
Kubis called upon the Council of Representatives to "conduct a wider consultation on the draft amendments in a participatory manner to recommit to and ensure the full respect, protection and fulfillment of women and girls’ rights in Iraq in relation to matrimonial and other matters."
The suggested changes could violate child protections enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The 1994 treaty defines a child as any human being under the age of 18 unless the age of majority is decided through national legislation. Iraq is a signatory of the Convention.
Women’s rights campaigners have protested the law, including Yezidi victims of ISIS. Others have complained that this is the Iraq the world wants Kurdistan to remain a part of.
UNAMI said it was the public outcry that spurred its statement.
The Kurdistan Region’s Women’s Affairs department has worked with the United Nations to combat child marriage.