Underage Marriage Growing in Iraqi Cities

By Wassim Bassem for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Rumors circulated that a man in his 90s who had married a girl 70 years his junior had died recently in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad. This shocking news is only one part of the “uneven marriages” that have become endemic among Iraqis where social traditions and habits are reinforced by tribal authorities and applicable laws.

Meanwhile, civil society and human rights organizations stand idly by, failing to intervene to stem the prevalence of such marriages, especially the forced marriage of underage girls.

 Alia Kadi, a social researcher, told Al-Monitor, “These marriages are ‘spawned’ by rural areas and poor neighborhoods, where customs and traditions are rife. The people in these areas are conservative and do not accept new concepts. They do not easily replace their cultural and social legacies, and they warn against openness to contemporary civilization.”

Kadi continued, “Even big cities are affected by the culture of these areas, not the other way around, because of the intransigence and intolerance that characterize the local, close-minded culture.

This mindset has spread in the cities, following the collapse of its vulnerable, recently developed modern social structure in the face of the rural culture, which derives its strength from tribal laws and misinterpretations of religion.”

One of the reasons for early marriage can be seen in the following real-life example. A Babil man named Marza Hamdan, also known as Abu Ali, supports his five daughters on a pension of less than 300,000 dinars (less than $300) a month. He therefore had to marry off his 16-year-old daughter to an upper-class man in his 60s.

In an interview, Abu Ali shared with Al-Monitor, “Poverty was an important reason that led me to agree to this marriage.” In addition, he fears that his daughters will remain unmarried and deviate from the morally acceptable behaviors of Iraqi society, which according to him, has begun to lose a great deal of its ethics and values.

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