A local imam, a city councilman, Iraqi-Americans, and their American friends protested child marriage Friday evening (November 17) in El Cajon.
They gathered to speak out against a proposal in the Iraqi Parliament that would allow men to marry girls as young as nine years old.
Flyers were posted all over Prescott Promenade Park in downtown El Cajon, where the protest was held. The flyer invited everyone from the American community to join them in protest “against the proposed amendments to the Iraqi Personal Status Law No. 188 of 1959…” Under this current law in Iraq, 18 is the legal age of marriage.
Speaking in Arabic and English, several speakers addressed a gathering of people holding Iraqi national flags and signs of protest against child marriage. One sign read, “IRAQ Don’t legalize Marriage of 9 years old Child!”
A young girl came before the audience and was told, “...the Iraqi government wants to marry people like you.” The girl was asked, “Are you ready to be married?” “No!” she exclaimed. Her protest was met with applause.
Wedad Schlotte, interim president of the San Diego chapter of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, organized the protest in El Cajon with civic groups Iraqi Democratic Current, Iraqi Democratic Union, and the Iraqi Women’s League. She spoke at the gathering, condemning the proposal and the “ISIS mentality of the [Iraqi] parliament.” “This is our Iraq!” she exclaimed after giving a roll call of Iraqi progressive heroes and issuing a call for Iraq to return to a civil society.
"Aisha was 9 years of age when Muhammad consummated the marriage says top Islamic scholar"
Afrah Abdulkader, a protest participant, explained that because of the 1959 law, Iraq has been one of the few Middle Eastern countries where civil matters that affect people’s personal lives have been adjudicated by civil court judges rather than religious clerics. This gave women and children relatively better legal protections. The proposed draft amendments to that law would take that power from civil court judges and put it in the hands of religious clerics. Among other threats to women’s and children’s rights, such a change would allow girls as young as nine years old to be married under one extremist interpretation of Islamic Shariah law. This interpretation is based on the belief that Aisha, one of the wives of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, was nine years old when she married him.
Imam Taha Hassane of the Islamic Center of San Diego said that Aisha was a child at the time her family joined Muhammad in Mecca, but it was not until many years later after they traveled to Medina that Muhammad married her. Hassane explained that given the recorded events of Aisha’s life, she must have been at least 18 years old before she married, if not older. He pointed out that many Islamic scholars take that view.
Schlotte stated the pending amendment has been held up in the Iraqi Parliament’s women’s committee and it is uncertain whether it will eventually pass into law.
At a November 9 press briefing, United States State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert condemned the proposal and issued a reminder that “it was not that long ago that we called out the depravity of ISIS for taking child brides.”
Despite the Islamic interpretation that allows child marriage, predominantly Muslim regions of the world do not have the highest rates of it. According to a UNICEF report on the percentage of women ages 20–24 who were married before the age of 15, sub-saharan Africa has the highest rate at 12 percent, Latin America the second highest at 5 percent, and the Middle East and North Africa (the predominantly Muslim region of the world) the third highest at 3 percent. Those three regions also fall in the same order from highest to lowest on the list of adolescent (ages 15–17) marriage rates.
El Cajon councilman Ben Kalasho spoke at the protest, calling the Iraqi proposal “disheartening.” He said it’s a blow to “secular government and intellectuals who are trying to move Iraq in the right direction.”