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Iraq

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
5%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
24%

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

Photo credit: Abbie Trayler Smith Panos | DFID

Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
5%
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
24%

* References

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

28% of girls in Iraq are married before the age of 18 and 7% are married before the age of 15.

Child marriage is most prevalent in the governorates of Missan (where 35% of women aged 20-49 were married before the age of 18), Basra (31%), Karbala (31%), Muthana (27%).

While available data is limited, forced and child marriage is reportedly a growing problem for internally displaced Iraqi girls and Syrian girls living in refugee communities in Iraq, and it also been used by armed groups as “a weapon of war”.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys.

In Iraq’s post-conflict context, there are approximately 1.8 million internally displaced persons and almost 250,000 refugees from Syria. Insecurity, lack of social cohesion and livelihoods, and destroyed housing hamper people’s ability to return home.

Humanitarian settings like in Iraq exacerbate poverty, insecurity, and lack of access to services such as education, factors which all drive child marriage. While gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage in both stable and crisis contexts, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with greater economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. During the conflict in Iraq, armed groups systematically abducted girls and women and used rape, slavery and forced marriage as “weapons of war”.

Nowadays, in Iraq child marriage is exacerbated by:

  • Displacement: The arrival of refugees from Syria and the displacement of Iraqis has exacerbated child marriage and the trafficking of women and girls for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced marriage. Limited access to basic healthcare, education and employment and precarious conditions in refugee camps reportedly drives some parents to marry off their daughters in order to protect
  • Level of education: Almost a fifth of women with no education were married as children, compared to 7% who had completed secondary school and higher. During the conflict, children missed school for years, which put girls at an increased risk of being married off.
  • Poverty: 8% of women in Iraq’s poorest households were married as children, compared to 5% from the richest households. Heightened poverty following the war in Iraq saw an increase in girls being married off in order to reduce their perceived burden on families, or being lured into marriages as a way of escaping financial challenges.
  • Religion: Sharia law, which dominates the realm of family law in Iraq, provides limited protection for girls and women. Imams sometimes conduct child marriages without formal registration, leaving child brides without any legal rights or protection.

Family honour: Some families believe that girls “need to be taken care of”, and marry them off in order to preserve their honour. Some older generations reportedly believe that keeping an unmarried girl is comparable to “keeping a barrel of gunpowder at home”, suggesting that child marriage is used to prevent sexual relations outside marriage, perceived as “illicit”.

What has this country committed to?

Iraq has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2018 High Level Political Forum, the government provided an update on progress towards this target, stating that 27.9% of girls are married at age 18 or younger than that, while in poor families, the percentage increases to 30%, compared to 19% among the rich population.

Iraq acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1986, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

In 2019, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the persistence of child marriage and the high rates of child marriage in the camps for internally displaced people. The Committee recommended the Iraq to:

  • Adopt a comprehensive strategy to eliminate all harmful practices;
  • Repeal the discriminatory legal exceptions to the minimum age of marriage for girls and ensure that the minimum age of marriage is set at 18 years;
  • Address the trafficking in women and girls for purposes of forced marriage.

During its 2019 Universal Periodic Review, Iraq agreed to review recommendations to prevent and eradicate harmful practices against women and girls, particularly early and forced marriage and amend provisions that protect offenders if they marry their victims.

During its 2014 Universal Periodic Review, Iraq agreed to examine recommendations to take steps towards ending forced and temporary marriages that entrap girls in sexual and domestic servitude, and to abolish and amend all laws that encourage and permit child marriages.

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

In November 2017, the Government of Iraq introduced a bill to amend the Personal Status Law authorising religious sects to define the rights of women and girls in accordance with their beliefs. If passed, some religious sects would define the age of marriage as low as nine years old, in accordance with their interpretations of the Quran. However, as of March 2020, this amendment has not been approved. An earlier, more extreme version of the bill, provoked international outcry.

In 2016, an inter-ministerial committee adopted a plan by the High Council of Women Affairs to help change societal attitudes and behaviour towards child marriage in the Kurdistan region. The plan, supported by UNFPA, included a public campaign on “ensuring my future”, which highlighted the direct relationship between empowering young girls and boys and reducing rates of child marriage.

In the Kurdistan region, UN agencies, international and local NGOs and government counterparts have established a Child Marriage Task Force that has produced a guidance note on addressing child marriage cases.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

According to the Personal Status Law and Amendments 1987 the minimum legal age of marriage is 18 years. However individuals can marry at 15 years with judicial consent.

Article 41 of the Iraqi Permanent Constitution (2005) enables every sect and religious community to follow its own religious teachings and laws regarding marriage, and affects attempts to standardise a legal age in line with international standards.

Source

Central Statistics Organisation, Iraq Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2018, 2019, https://mics-surveys-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/MICS6/Middle%20East%20and%20North%20Africa/Iraq/2018/Survey%20findings/Iraq%202018%20MICS%20SFR%20%5BJune%202019%5D_English.pdf (accessed March 2020).

Equality Now, et. al, Information on Iraq for Consideration by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at its 74th Session, 2019, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=INT%2fCEDAW%2fCSS%2fIRQ%2f37333&Lang=en (accessed March 2020).

European Commission, Iraq, [website], 2019, https://ec.europa.eu/echo/where/middle-east/iraq_en (accessed March 2020).

Iraq, First National Voluntary Review on Sustainable Development Goals, 2019, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/23789Iraq_VNR_2019_final_EN_HS.pdf (accessed March 2020).

Norwegian Refugee Council, Child protection: What you need to know about Syrian child marriage, [website], https://www.nrc.no/perspectives/2019/what-you-need-to-know-about-syrian-child-marriage/ (accessed March 2020).

OCHA, Iraq, [website], 2020, https://www.unocha.org/iraq (accessed March 2020).

The Guardian, ‘Catastrophic’ Iraq law could legalise marriage for children as young as nine, [website], 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/nov/14/catastrophic-iraq-law-could-legalise-marriage-for-children-as-young-as-nine (accessed March 2020).

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding observations on the seventh periodic report of Iraq, 2019, p. 5-13, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fIRQ%2fCO%2f7&Lang=en (accessed March 2020). 

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Iraq, 2014, p.15, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/IQIndex.aspx (accessed March 2020).

UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Iraq, 2019, p. 10, 12, 23, 24, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/IQIndex.aspx (accessed March 2020).

UNFPA, Child marriage in Kurdistan region, Iraq, 2016, https://iraq.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/Child%20Marriage%20Broucher%20English%20Final%20covers%206.pdf (accessed March 2020).

UNICEF, et. al, Child marriage in humanitarian settings: spotlight on the situation in the Arab region, 2018, https://www.girlsnotbrides.es/resource-centre/child-marriage-in-humanitarian-settings-spotlight-on-the-situation-in-the-arab-region/?view_original (accessed March 2020).

UNICEF, et al., Inter-agency guidance note: prevention of and response to child marriage in the kurdistan region of Iraq, 2016, https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/resource-centre/inter-agency-guidance-note-prevention-response-child-marriage-kurdistan-region-iraq/ (accessed March 2020).

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg5 (accessed March 2020).

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)