‘Child marriage’ bill stirs outrage in Iraq

Ammar Toama, who heads the Shiite parliamentary group Fadila, said the bill’s aim was to bring the law “in line with the beliefs” of practicing Muslims. (Reuters)
Updated 23 November 2017

‘Child marriage’ bill stirs outrage in Iraq

BAGDHAD: A proposal in Iraq’s parliament to scrap the minimum age for Muslim girls to marry has stirred outrage among critics who view it as a license “to rape children.”
Conservative Shiite deputies on October 31 proposed an amendment to a 1959 law that set the minimum age for marriage at 18.
The initial legislation, passed shortly after the fall of the Iraqi monarchy, transferred the right to decide on family affairs from religious authorities to the state and its judiciary.
But now the new bill looks to go back on that — and would authorize the marriage of any girl if it had the consent of the religious leaders from the Shiite or Sunni Muslim community to which her parents belong.
In effect, it makes “the opinion of the Shiite and Sunni ulema (scholars) obligatory for judges,” said a liberal independent MP, Faiq Al-Sheikh, a member of Iraq’s legal commission.
Historically, he recalled, Islam has allowed the marriage of pubescent girls from the age of nine, the same as Aisha when she is believed to have been married to the Prophet Muhammad.
Social media has been flooded with criticism of the parliamentary bill, ranging from outright indignation to black humor, with anger also rife on the streets.
“It’s a law worthy of the Islamic State (jihadist group) that provides legal cover to the rape of children,” Hadi Abbas, an army retiree in the southern city of Kut, said.
Ali Lefta, a 40-year-old teacher in the port city of Basra, said it amounted to “the murder of the innocence of children” and that the bill was “the latest in a string of stupid laws based on tribal and confessional modes of thinking.”
In defense of the bill sponsored by his party, Ammar Toama, who heads the Shiite parliamentary group Fadila, said it “makes no mention of age and stipulates only that she (bride) must be pubescent, capable of deciding, and have the accord of her tutor and a judge.”
Under the Iraqi constitution, citizens have to declare their religious affiliation on certain issues. Marriage and inheritance terms for Shiites differ from those for Sunnis.
Toama said the bill’s aim was to bring the law “in line with the beliefs” of practicing Muslims.
But foreign missions in Baghdad and the United Nations have been up in arms, warning against institutionalized discrimination against women and girls.
Many Iraqis like Safia Mohssen, a mother of three girls, also remain opposed and have taken to mocking the priorities of parliamentarians.
“We have war, crises, unemployment, and yet our parliament is busy with laws that violate children’s rights!” she fumed. “The Islamists want to take us back to the Middle Ages.”
Majeda Al-Tamimi, a woman legislator, said she was confident that many of her colleagues in parliament would oppose the bill.
But whether it passes or not, women like Umm Mohammed in the conservative rural province of Zi Qar, who wed at the age of 14, said marriage was a family affair.
“Only families know when their daughter has reached puberty and at what age she can marry,” said the 65-year-old Iraqi.


Lebanese protests swell as cabinet to hold key meeting

Updated 21 October 2019

Lebanese protests swell as cabinet to hold key meeting

  • Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied on Sunday
  • The protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday

BEIRUT: Lebanese protesters were expected to return to the streets for a fifth day Monday, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri holding a cabinet meeting to try to calm the unprecedented demonstrations.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across Lebanon’s sectarian divides rallied against corruption and the entire political class Sunday, the largest such demonstrations in the country for years.
Early Monday morning protesters began to block main roads and prevent employees going to work, while calls on social media urged people to boycott work.
Banks, universities and schools closed their doors Monday, with Hariri expected to offer reforms in a bid to stem the anger.
“It’s a day of destiny for us. All our hard work and efforts in previous days and years were to get us to this moment,” said Roni Al-Asaad, a 32-year-old activist in central Beirut.
“If they could have implemented these reforms before, why haven’t they? And why should we believe them today?”
At the nerve center of the demonstrations near the country’s houses of government in central Beirut, volunteers were once again collecting rubbish from the streets, many wearing face masks and plastic gloves.
The protests have grown steadily since public anger first spilled onto the streets Thursday evening in response to a proposed tax on calls via WhatsApp and other messaging services.
While the government quickly dropped that plan, the leaderless protests morphed into demands for a sweeping overhaul of the political system, with grievances ranging from austerity measures to poor infrastructure.
Hariri had given his coalition partners three days to support reforms he said were crucial to get the economy back on track.
On Sunday evening a cabinet official said that the parties had agreed.
The cabinet will hold a meeting chaired by President Michel Aoun at 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) to discuss the reforms.
Demonstrators said Hariri’s proposals would not be enough, with demands for the entire political class to resign.
“All of them are warlords,” said Patrick Chakar, 20. “We waited 30 years or more for them to change and they didn’t.”
More than a quarter of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line, the World Bank says, while the political class has remained relatively unchanged since the end of a devastating 15-year civil war in 1990.
Lebanon ranked 138 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2018 corruption index, and residents suffer chronic electricity and water shortages.
Lebanese media hailed the demonstrations.
Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Shiite Muslim militant party Hezbollah, published a picture of protesters carrying a giant flag on its front page with a commentary on “Test Day: Power or People?”
The French-language newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour said “The hour of truth has arrived,” while the English-language The Daily Star said: “Lebanon’s only paths: reform or abyss.”