The U.S. Department of State's highest priority overseas is the protection and welfare of American citizens. Forced marriage is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that "no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses". The U.S. Department of State considers forced marriage to be a human rights abuse, in the case of minors also a form of child abuse. Often, victims are subjected to non-consensual sex, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, and threats of violence.
Arranged marriages are a long-standing tradition in many cultures and countries. The Department respects this tradition, and makes a very clear distinction between a forced and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in the arrangement but the choice whether to consent remains with the individuals. In a forced marriage, at least one party does not consent to the marriage, and some element of duress or coercion is generally present.
In Iraq, marriage laws are based on the Iraqi Personal Status Law, a provision of the Iraqi civil law. If that law does not address a particular aspect of a case at hand, courts may rely upon principles from Islamic Shari’a and Iraqi Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and the Fiqh developed in surrounding Islamic countries. Marriage laws dictate that both parties to the marriage must be at least 18 years of age in order for the marriage to be considered valid. However, a judge may authorize the marriage of a person no younger than 15 years of age if the parents support the marriage or if the marriage is considered necessary, as in the case of an out-of-wedlock birth. Under the same law, one of the parties to the marriage must initiate an offer (verbally or through methods of traditional custom) and the other party must accept the offer through an agent (wakil). Iraq does have a specific law banning forced marriage. Article 9 of the Personal Status Law states that no individual can force marriage on another individual, regardless of gender, even if they are the individual’s relative. If a forced marriage does occur, the marriage contract is considered void, as long as consummation has not occurred. However, it is unclear how often the law against forced marriage is enforced by appropriate officials.
Iraqi law provides two legitimate bases for marriage – mutual life and procreation. There are several necessary conditions that must be fulfilled in order to validate a marriage: offer and acceptance; mutual understanding of the marriage intention; verification of two witnesses; and draft of a condition-free contract. In addition, a wife may revoke a marriage contract if the husband does not abide by all of the promises in the contract. However, the only available method for such a revocation is a lengthy legal process.
There are some additional requirements on the couple, depending on their nationalities and religious beliefs. A Muslim man may marry a non-Muslim, provided that the bride is a member of one of the other religious traditions identified as “People of the Book.” However, a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim. In addition, if an Iraqi woman is marrying a non-Iraqi, one of her parents (or a legal guardian) must be present at the marriage contract ceremony.
It is not uncommon for families to arrange marriages to close relatives or family friends. For instance, it is permissible for first cousins to marry. In addition, families may still require that women marry men from their own religious sect, especially if the family has been affected by sectarian violence. There have been a number of allegations of honor killings, particularly in southern Iraq in the Basra region. In some cases family members have been accused of the murder, while in other cases family members have allegedly hired a contract killer. In addition, there have been a number of allegations of police cover-ups of honor killings.
The Personal Status Law does provide some recourse for victims of forced marriages. The law allows either spouse to seek separation and divorce if the other spouse injures them in some serious way, if they were married underage without judicial consent, or if the marriage was the result of coercion and already has been consummated.
If you are facing this situation, or know someone who is, contact the local authorities and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Please see the Country Specific Information for Iraq for locations and contact information.