WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert strongly criticized the Iraqi parliament’s approval, in principle, of a draft law that would allow the marriage of girls as young as nine-years old and restore the authority of religious courts in matters of personal status.
“We are completely against and oppose the idea of children marrying adults,” Nauert said on Thursday, replying to a question from Kurdistan 24 at a Department press briefing.
Nauert likened the pending Iraqi legislation to the practices of the Islamic State (IS.)
“It was not that long ago,” she said, that we condemned “the depravity of [IS] for taking children as brides.”
“We remain firmly opposed to the idea that any adult would attempt to marry a child in that fashion.”
Iraq’s current personal status law goes back to 1959. It was approved in the wake of the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy in a military coup led by Gen. Abdul Karim Qasim in July 1958.
The 1959 law would be considered progressive today in many countries.
Qasim’s personal status law replaced religious, shari’a-based courts with government courts.
It established the minimum age for marriage as 18; restricted polygamy; and banned forced marriages. It has remained in effect for the past 58 years.
Already in 2003, just months after Saddam Hussein’s regime was toppled in the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Shia religious parties sought to revise the law.
Abel Aziz Hakim, who became head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq following the assassination of his brother, Mohammed Baqir in August, tried to change the personal status law in December 2003. However, he was thwarted by the US, which still formally occupied the country.
In 2014, the issue arose again. Iraq’s Council of Ministers approved a new personal status law in March, as the Shia parties maneuvered for votes in advance of the April elections. However, IS’ sudden emergence and its seizure of Mosul in June sidelined the legislation.
With elections approaching again, in May, the challenge to the 1959 personal status law has reappeared and, probably, for the same reason. Some Shia parties evidently calculate that it will bring them an advantage in the polls.
Also, on Thursday, speaking prior to the State Department’s press conference, Fairooza Taha, Deputy Head of the Kurdistan Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights, denounced the draft law as “obviously against the internationally-recognized rights of women and children.”
She also explained that it would not be applied in the Kurdistan Region, which has its own government and parliament.
The proposed legislation was also criticized in a statement issued Thursday by Jan Kubis, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq.
Editing by Nadia Riva