Intervening on Behalf of Young Teen Girls at Risk of Early Marriage

Since 2016, the Iraqi Children Foundation (ICF) has invested in education, family mediation, and home income-generating projects to mitigate the risk of early marriage for young teenage girls, especially the most vulnerable girls who are orphans and live in desperate poverty.  

According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 Country Report on Human Rights in Iraq, released earlier this year:  

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“The legal minimum age of marriage is 15 with parental permission and 18 without. The government reportedly made few efforts to enforce the law. Traditional forced marriages of girls occurred throughout the country. According to UNICEF in 2016, approximately 975,000 women and girls had been married before age 15, twice as many as in 1990. Early and forced marriages, as well as abusive temporary marriages, occurred in rural and urban areas.  According to the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, refugees and IDPs in the IKR contributed to increased child marriages and polygamy. Local and international NGOs reported that the practice of husbands or their families threatening to divorce wives they married when the girls were very young (ages 12 to 16) to pressure the girl’s family to provide additional money to the girl’s husband and his family also occurred, particularly in the south. Victims of these forced divorces were compelled to leave their husbands and their husbands’ families, and social customs regarding family honor often prevented victims from returning to their own families, leaving some adolescent girls abandoned.”

Intervening on behalf of young girls faced with early marriage is life-changing and gives them a chance for a better future.  Consider the stories of Noor,* Fatima,* and Muna*, three girls whose lives have been directly impacted by compassionate support from ICF donors:

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Noor*, a 13-year old orphan, lost her mother and father in a terrorist bombing.  She and three brothers went to live with a poor aunt. Noor begged on the street, got arrested for vagrancy, and spent three months in a reformatory.  Her aunt, desperate for financial support, decided she would marry young Noor off for a sum of money.  The Baghdad Street Lawyers and social workers, alerted by local adults trained in child protection, intervened with the aunt and persuaded her not to force Noor to marry. Instead, they helped Noor and her aunt set up a small shop at home so Noor would no longer have to beg.      

Fatima* (14) also worked on the street selling simple items. Her mother could barely manage their daily expenses so decided to marry Fatima off.  Again, the Baghdad Street Lawyers and social workers intervened, helping Fatima and her mother open a small clothing shop to support their needs.  Fortunately, like Noor, Fatima was able to avoid being forced into early marriage.

Muna* (13) is the daughter of a poor shepherd.  She had never attended school but fortunately, discovered the Hope Bus where she attended regularly and demonstrated a strong desire to learn.  When the time came to take the next step and enroll in public school, Muna showed up crying, saying her father refused to let her go.  Her father told her she was now an adult and must marry.  Social workers immediately intervened and mediated with the father, trying to convince him that Muna was bright and learned quickly.  At last, the father relented and allowed Muna to enroll in school and pursue her dream of an education.  

For girls like Noor, Fatima, and Muna, their rescue from the fate of early marriage is the result of a passionate group of donors who make it possible for ICF to provide salaries for social workers, lawyers, and teachers. Interested in helping at-risk girls like these?  Visit us at www.iraqichildren.org/donate

                                                                                                               *Names changed for privacy

 The Iraqi Children Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity located at 701 W Broad St., Suite 301, Falls Church, VA 22046. Phone:  (703) 635-7990.  All contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. A financial statement is available upon written request from the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs. 



Cindy Fogleman