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 Though illegal, forced marriages still common in Iraqi Kurdistan

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Though illegal, forced marriages still common in Iraqi Kurdistan  4.9.2012 

A workshop organized by Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) in Slemani on forced marriages, divorce and violence against women, 2011 Photo NPA.
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September 4, 2012

ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — Forced marriage is a Kurdish tradition that has decreased in recent times. Although it is forbidden by Islam and civil law, there are still people who practice it, despite the fact that it often causes great tragedies.

Maj. Jilamo Abdulqadir, head of the general directorate of follow up on violence against women in Erbil, says, "No girl has filed a lawsuit against her family due to a forced marriage. But we have some cases where girls come and complain about their families preventing them from marrying who they choose.”

According to Abdulqaidr, the directorate has been successful calling families and convincing them to let their daughters choose what they want.

But he adds, "Some girls who turn to us have problems that cannot be solved. One girl came to us wanting to marry a man but her family would not let her. The girl also did not want to file a lawsuit against her family. Therefore, we could not help her."

Research conducted by the People's Development Association (PDA), with the assistance of the Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), initiated an open debate about the role of religion in fighting forced marriages.

Forty religious teachers from different parts of Kurdistan took part in the debate and they all emphasized the fact that Islam prohibits forced marriages -- considered “haram,” or sinful.

According to PDA’s research, those who are forced to marry someone they do not want suffer from psychological problems.

Bahar Munzir, director of PDA, has looked into forced marriages in Norway for four years with a Norwegian organization. "In Norway, we distributed our phone number in public places, visited schools and talked to students, teachers and researchers. The Ministry of Education helped us a great deal," he said.

A case which illustrates the experience of some women is that of “S.” S. was 22 years old and the mother of two daughters. She was forced into a marriage for six years. Two years ago, her body was found slaughtered in an Erbil neighborhood.

A friend told Rudaw, "S. was in love with a guy who asked for her hand twice from her family. Her family refused to allow her to marry him and forced her to marry a man older than her by 16 years. S. continued to have an affair with her lover after she was married, and she was killed for this reason."

Abdulqadir talked about S. as well, saying she had come to the directorate with her story.

"If a woman refuses to marry an individual, it does not mean she in love with a different person,” Abdulqadir added. “It could just be that she does not like the suitor."

Mullah Magdid Kareem, a Friday speech reader at the Haji Bakir Zeringir Mosque in Erbil, said that Sharia law has banned forced marriage and that consent is the major requirement for a marriage.

"The prophet (PBUH) has rejected forced marriages,” Kareem said. “A man forced his daughter to marry his nephew. The daughter went to the prophet and complained to him about it. The prophet dissolved that marriage."

According to the Iraqi Civil Code, ratified in Kurdish Parliament in 2008: "No one has the right to force a male or female into marrying someone else. Without the consent of one of the spouses, the marriage is considered null unless they have had intercourse. Violators of this law will be imprisoned for two to five years or fined. If the person who breaches this law is a family member, then the sentence will be between three and 10 years imprisonment."

Munzir believes that this law has not been implemented in Kurdistan. "It only exists on paper. There are women who are taken to court after their second birth. Forced marriage is still practiced heavily,” he said.

“If you prevent a woman from marrying someone she wants, it’s the same as forced marriage because another one is picked for her. There are girls who get killed when they want marry someone they choose. The most evident example is the teacher Mamosta Sakar in Raniya who wanted to marry someone she chose and got killed for it."

Mahdi Namiq, a 28-year-old teacher, says that often girls are stopped from marrying the man they love than being married off by force.

"Girls cannot take their parents, uncles or relatives who prevent their marriage to court," he said, adding "those girls who make a decision on their own must think carefully and listen to their parents."

By Soran Bahaddin, Rudaw

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