Iraq has moved a step closer to allowing girls as young as nine to marry, human rights campaigners have claimed.
The proposal is part of a draft law recently approved by 40 MPs that would see the restoration of religious courts, says Equality Now (EN).
Government courts have, since 1959, ruled on such matters, setting the official age of marriage to 18, although a judge can allow it at 15.
But the proposed legislation – which will have to be approved by a full parliament to go ahead – would instead see religious courts decide.
“The nine-year-old thing comes from the different interpretations of the wife of the Prophet Muhammad,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, EN’s Middle East consultant.
“Some interpretations say she was married at the age of nine. That is why some religious sects in Iraq are following that.”
UNICEF says one-in-five girls are married as children in Iraq and that the practice often sees them abandon education and fall pregnant. If the mother is under 18 when she gives birth her infant’s risk of dying in the first year is 60% higher. Underage marriage also puts the girl at greater vulnerability to domestic violence, the NGO says.
“Iraqi women are outraged,” Abu-Dayyeh told Euronews. “We’re very concerned and it will affect all women’s issues in their daily lives.
“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 in terms of women’s rights.”
Any move from government to religious courts could also see changes to laws regarding divorce, custody and inheritance, as well as marriage, added Abu-Dayyeh.
“Some religious sects say women should not inherit real estate and custody of a child, in cases of divorce, should be with the man, not the women,” she said.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq has urged a consultation to “ensure the protection and respect for women’s rights”.
Abu-Dayyeh said no date had yet been set for a vote on the draft law.