Photo credit: Abbie Trayler Smith Panos | DFID
Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* 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?
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, child marriage is also driven by:
- Level of education: 33% of women with no education were married as children, compared to 13% who had completed secondary school or higher.
- Poverty: 28% of women in Iraq’s poorest households were married as children, compared to only 16% from the richest households. Heightened poverty following the war in Iraq has seen 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.
- Displacement: The arrival of nearly 245,000 refugees from Syria and over one million displaced persons from other parts of Iraq has exacerbated child 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 them.
- 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.
- Gender norms: 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 perceived illicit sexual relations.
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.
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.
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?
An inter-ministerial committee has adopted a plan by the High Council of Women Affairs that will help change societal attitudes and behaviour towards child marriage in the Kurdistan region. The plan, supported by UNFPA, includes running a public campaign on “ensuring my future”, which highlights the direct relationship between empowering young girls and boys and reducing rates of child marriage.
In 2014 the draft Ja’afari Personal Status Law, approved by Iraq’s Council of Ministers, caused outrage among international human rights groups as it would have enabled girls as young as nine to legally marry. The draft law was put forward for discussion in Iraq’s parliament on 31 October 2017. The draft law was rejected by the Parliament at the end of November 2017.
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.
Due to the political instability in Iraq, very little is known about government and civil society efforts to end child marriage at the community level, although there are some active organisations based in Iraqi-Kurdish controlled cities.
UNICEF continues to address child marriage within refugee camps in Iraq.
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.
Central Statistics Organisation, Iraq Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2011, 2012, (accessed May 2018)
The Guardian, Iraq child-marriage bill sparks outrage among human rights groups, [website], 2014, (accessed May 2018)
UNFPA, Child marriage in Kurdistan region, Iraq, 2016, (accessed May 2018)
UN General Assembly, Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Iraq, 2014, p.15, (accessed May 2018)
United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)