A BBC documentary in Iraq has revealed Shia clerics selling young girls–including preteens–into temporary marriages lasting as short as an hour in some cases.
The marriages, known as Mutaa marriages, are believed to be for sexual gratification instead of procreation and can last anywhere from an hour to ninety-nine years.
This form of marriage has existed for centuries, often with the implied goal for a man to be with another woman while his wife was absent. As extra-marital affairs were illegal, by paying a dowry, a man could take on a temporary interim wife.
A Shia Cleric said it would be ‘no problem at all’ to marry off prepubescent girls under the Mutaa arrangement.
The BBC found in their report:
Mutaa marriages are derived from pre-Islamic tradition in both Iran and Arabia. Today they are sanctioned by Shia clerics in Iraq and neighbouring Iran, where most Shia adhere to what is known as Twelver Shiism.
Experts say that under Shia Islam the object of such marriages is sexual enjoyment and not procreation, and that in previous centuries they took place mostly at pilgrimage sites and trade centres, where lonely men travelling long distances often sought company.
A mutaa marriage is subject to a contract that specifies its length and the amount of compensation given to the temporary wife. But the contract can just be verbal, and a cleric – though often present – is not necessary to validate it.
It can last from an hour to 99 years. The man is not obliged to provide daily maintenance and has the right to end the contract at any time.
Mutaa marriages are not permitted under Sunni Islam. But some Sunni clerics sanction alternative variants of marriage, such as “misyar”, which some experts say performs a similar function to mutaa marriage and has also been criticised as exploitative of women.
The length of the marriage must be specified in advance for it to be binding.
For younger girls, the loss of virginity and pregnancy is prohibited; therefore, other forms of sexual acts with lower likelihoods of conception are permitted or anti-contraceptives are administered.
According to The Daily Mail:
The practice is not permitted under Sunni Islam and was banned under Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led government.
However, the practice flourished in the wake of the 2003 invasion as Iraq’s new government struggled to impose its authority on the country and Shia clerics grew in influence.
One girl said she could not even remember how many times she had been ‘married’ and said she relied on the dowries for her income.
Young women also fear that losing their virginity in a temporary marriage will leave them unable to find a permanent husband in future.
One 14-year-old said she feared the consequences if a future husband found out that she was not a virgin.
However, an Iraqi government spokesman said there was little that authorities could do if girls did not complain to the police.
Some girls have entered Mutaa marriages several times before the end of their teenage years.