As a teenager, Rusul dropped out of school to work. It was tough, and after a while, she started dreaming of getting married. She wanted someone who could share the burden and provide for her. A man who had been coming to her store every day grabbed her attention, they got married. She thought the marriage was forever, but after a few weeks, he disappeared.
What had happened was a special type of Islamic temporary marriage – a “zawaj al-mut’a”. It’s also called a “pleasure marriage” and it is a way of allowing religiously approved sex, according to a BBC’s article The teenager married too many times to count.
Rasul went back to the cleric who married them to seek support and an explanation. Instead, he offered her another temporary marriage. Since then, Rusul has had dozens of husbands.
“The cleric became a middle man, giving me work, and I had no choice but to follow that road. The moment a girl starts doing this, her life is ruined,” Rusul says.
Rusul is not the only child in Iraq being groomed by clerics and offered for sex to others. According to the BBC investigation, many religious figures are using vulnerable young girls to sexually exploited them in a “temporary marriage” practice. Out of 10 clerics approached by the undercover reporter, eight said they conducted them. Of those eight, two agreed to approve marriage for girls as young as nine years old.
“I can take a photo of her and send you her photo… Then when you come back she’s yours,” one cleric said.
In early 2019, ECPAT released a comprehensive report covering the context for sexual exploitation of children in Iraq, and it says that mut’a marriages are also used by perpetrators of trafficking to procure girls and women for prostitution. The practice of mut’a marriage does not require witnesses, officials or family members to be involved for the contract to be registered. Perpetrators have been known to use this for trafficking, divorcing the women or girls after crossing the border, and returning to Iraq to repeat the process.
This is why ECPAT urges Iraq government to take action to protect their children. It is crucial that Iraq amends its legislation to ensure that no child gets married before the age of 18.