Urgent Alert – Iraqi girls face child marriage threat & new proposal encourages increased polygamy - Equality Now

Urgent Alert – Iraq: Girls face child marriage threat & new proposal encourages increased polygamy

We urgently need your help! A new bill that would allow girls as young as nine to be married off in Iraq is being considered by its Parliament.

24 January 2018 Update: Our partners appreciate your solidarity and hope that you will continue to Take Action for girls and women in Iraq. While Parliament has yet to discuss the November 2017 bill that could effectively result in girls being married off as young as nine, new legislation that would exploit divorced, widowed or women who are virgins aged 30 years or older is also pending.

On 7 January 2018, MP Muhsen El Sadoon, the Head of the Legal Committee submitted a new proposed bill to the Speaker of the House that would actively encourage polygamy by using state funds to essentially bribe married men to take on additional wives (under Iraq’s discriminatory Personal Status Law, men can already marry up to four women). The proposed Article states that the Iraqi government will pay married men five million Dinar (approx. £3046 or $4250 US) if he marries a widow, a divorced woman or a woman who is 30 years old and a virgin!!

This is outrageous! Rather than providing money as social welfare directly to the women who might need it, the discriminatory bill treats women as objects that men can marry for financial gain. Women’s groups are infuriated by the suggested amendments, which would further threaten the stability of families and create a wide range of economic and social problems. As our partners recently expressed, Iraq’s actions on women and girls show that it is not committed to complying with international human rights conventions. For example, Iraq clearly does not plan to follow the UN CEDAW Committee’s 2014 recommendation (Concluding Observations para 17.b) to repeal all sex discriminatory laws. At that time, the Committee had also recommended that Iraq immediately withdraw another discriminatory draft personal status law that would have allowed “child marriage”


Approximately 1 in 5 girls are already married off as children every year in Iraq -- potentially setting them up for early pregnancy, domestic violence, poverty and limited education and career opportunities. Introduced 1 November 2017, the new bill gives religious sects the power to make decisions on women’s and girls’ rights according to their own beliefs through amendments to the Personal Status Law No. 188 of 1959. Some of these sects would support lowering the age of marriage to nine based on their interpretations of the Quran and their belief that puberty means a girl can be married off.

“I think we will see an explosion of child marriage in Iraq if it’s passed. It’s not logical, we’re in 2017 and we’re still going backwards on women’s rights!” - Suad Abu-Dayyeh, Equality Now

Currently, the legal marriage age for Iraqi men and women is 18 years old, with some exceptions for 15-18 year olds. This new bill contradicts Iraq’s Constitution, international law and target 5.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, but it’s already been signed by 40 Iraqi Parliament members and approved in principle. A full vote on the bill is not yet on the Parliament’s agenda, but it could happen any day.