Domestic violence in Iraq on the rise in the absence of protective laws
Baghdad - Lama was lucky to get a divorce after years of beatings, harassment and humiliation at the hands of her husband, who also tried to abuse their teenage daughter. Her case is among hundreds of similar circumstances lodged in Iraqi courts, which often fail to prosecute and punish perpetrators.
“We are usually unsuccessful when it comes to inflicting punishment on abusive husbands because of deep-rooted customs and traditions in our patriarchal society where women are denied the capacity to claim their rights and fear scandal and shame,” said lawyer and activist Alia Husseini.
“Lama’s (not her real name) is one of the many cases that we come across in court. Awareness and exposure of domestic abuse will help stem such cases, especially with the existence of laws that protect vulnerable members of the family and end impunity,” Husseini added.
While domestic violence is a global phenomenon, it is a particularly serious problem in Iraq. The lack of laws protecting victims of domestic abuse, compounded with insecurity, political instability and an economic crisis, resulted in the rise of domestic violence.
The Iraqi parliament is reviewing a draft anti-domestic violence law, which was introduced in 2015. Some members of parliament have voiced concerns that the bill might run counter to Islamic principles.
The measure includes mechanisms for the protection of victims, such as the creation of shelters, the provision of necessary care and rehabilitation and measures to prosecute and more harshly penalise abusers. It provides for the establishment of a cross-ministerial committee to combat domestic violence.
Activist Rasha Khaled, who began the initiative “We Protect our Family” with the help of the Norwegian People’s Aid in 2015, is seeking to amend discriminatory legislation against women that contradicts the principle of gender equality guaranteed by international declarations and conventions ratified by Iraq.
She is adamant that tough laws should be enacted to protect Iraqi women from abuse and to save their lives.
“We have registered cases in Baghdad and other governorates in which women were beaten to death. In one instance, the victim was disfigured by her husband, who hit her with a hammer on her head,” Khaled said.
“We are continuously pressuring parliament to speed up the enactment of the anti-domestic abuse laws, stressing the urgency to curtail the increasing number of incidents across the country, especially in the aftermath of the Islamic State’s occupation of large parts of Iraq in the past three years,” she added.
Khaled’s initiative offers battered women free legal services, enabling them to build court cases to file for divorce and custody of their young children. Victims are provided financial assistance to start micro-businesses helping them secure a dignified living.
Many Iraqi women face domestic violence on a regular basis and many commit suicide because of it, the United Nations said.
The most recent statistics by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior showed that the highest percentage of domestic violence cases in 2016 occurred in the southern governorate of Najaf, followed by Baghdad governorate and Maysan governorate, south of Baghdad.
In Najaf, more than 59% of domestic violence cases involved women being abused by husbands, while 15% involved fathers abusing their children. In Baghdad, 56% of cases involved men battering their wives and 14% abusing their children. In Maysan, 29% of cases involved young people harassing their fathers and 55% of cases involved husbands battering their wives.
Major Hadi Nayef of the Ministry of Interior noted that statistics showed a “constant increase” in cases of domestic violence from 2010-16.
Women’s rights groups in Iraq have campaigned for years for legislation on domestic violence. The Iraqi Constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family” but only Iraqi Kurdistan has a law on domestic violence.
Iraq has international human rights obligations to prevent and respond to these abuses. Several international treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which oversees the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) treaty, have called for countries to pass legislation to prevent violence against women. Iraq ratified the treaty in 1986.
Khaled said she sometimes feel discouragement but is determined to keep up the fight.
“In spite of the campaigns carried out by civil society groups and women’s organisations since 2011, and the recommendations of the ministries of interior and social affairs, the bill is still sitting in the parliament’s drawers,” Khaled said.