“There are serious constitutional and legal violations in this desire of the Islamic parties to amend the law,” one Iraqi MP, Shuruq al-Abaji, told NIQASH.
She points out that Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees that Iraqis are free to choose personal status according to their religious beliefs, sects or other choices. Before the amendments can be made to the personal status law, this article would need to be changed, al-Abaji insists.
And there is another legal issue, the politician notes. The proposed new personal status law would refer issues of marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance to the religious endowment authorities – these are the bodies tasked with running and maintaining Shiite or Sunni mosques and shrines and they are very important institutions within their own sectarian communities. But, as al-Abaji argues, that violates not just the principle of the separation of powers but also human rights and international laws around women’s rights.
“The organization of these issues should be the responsibility of the courts and not the executive branch of Sunni or Shiite religious orders,” al-Abaji concludes.
Iraq’s original personal status law and the proposed amendments could not be more different. The first one grants mothers the right to custody and gives wives the right to inherit their husband’s estate. Meanwhile religious jurisprudence tends to say the custody of children is a matter for the father and that women do not have the right to inherit real estate or land.
However these were not even the issues that really riled Iraqis up. The change that most angered locals was the one related to legal marriageable age. Civil law says a couple should be aged at least 18 in order to marry. Meanwhile religious law says puberty means a female is of marriageable age. In some cases, this is considered to be nine years old, in others 12 years old.