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(Reuters) – 8-Mar-2014 – BY SUADAD AL-SALHY – BAGDAD – About two dozen Iraqi women demonstrated on Saturday in Baghdad against a draft law approved by the Iraqi cabinet that would permit the marriage of nine-year-old girls and automatically give child custody to fathers.

The group’s protest was on International Women’s Day and a week after the cabinet voted for the legislation, based on Shi’ite Islamic jurisprudence, allowing clergy to preside over marriages, divorces and inheritances. The draft now goes to parliament.

“On this day of women, women of Iraq are in mourning,” the protesters shouted.

“We believe that this is a crime against humanity,” said Hanaa Eduar, a prominent Iraqi human rights activist. “It would deprive a girl of her right to live a normal childhood.”

What kind of monster thinks it’s OK to “marry” a nine-year-old girl and then rape her? I refuse to dignify the act by calling the consummation of marriage to a child anything but rape.

This is patriarchy in action. This. Make no mistake, women and girls don’t want this. From a purely physical perspective, we know how tiny and fragile a nine-year-old girl’s vagina is. We know that even if she has gone through puberty (a highly unlikely event) then her pelvis will still be so small that a pregnancy will very-likely kill her. We know that these will be arranged marriages to fully-grown males, perhaps even males twenty to fifty years her senior. Males who will consider raping “his” wife every night his “right” as husband, as patriarch of the family, no matter what he promises her family in advance.

There was a recent case just like this in Saudi Arabia – our supposed allies and best friends – where a man wanted to marry his eight-year-old daughter off to a man in his late forties as a way to pay off the father’s gambling debts!  The act of destroying a child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being in order to pay off gambling debts is perfectly legal in Saudi Arabia. The only reason the rest of us heard about it was that the child’s mother strenuously objected and took the almost unprecedented action of petitioning Saudi courts to have the heinous “marriage” blocked.

She lost.

However, we now learn that the 50-year-old man has agreed to divorce his 9-year-old wife after intense international pressure. He at first tried to smooth over the situation by promising to wait to consummate the marriage “until puberty” but has finally agreed to let her go free.

Until puberty?!? What does that mean in reality? That he has been raised in a culture that teaches him that as soon as a young girl has her first period, marital rape is OK. Let’s deconstruct that:

1) In my case I was a 12-year-old girl when my menses started – the average age when puberty begins in girls is 10 to 11;

2) Under Muslim religious law, a wife has no right to refuse her husband sex under any circumstances – there is no such thing as prosecution for rape within marriage;

3) It is impossible to even imagine a scenario where a ten- or eleven-year-old girl would be ready, willing and enthusiastic about sex with a 50-year-old man who procured her as a payment for gambling debts. Even if, by some bizarre result of grooming and bribery, she expressed interest, her lack of intellectual maturity and the tremendous power imbalance between them would make any sexual act de facto statutory rape.

Gender Myths: Fathers are the best people to arrange marriages for their daughters. Fathers always want what is best for their daughters and should be legally enabled to perform this vitally important function as the natural patriarch of the family.

Reality: Fathers are fallible human beings like the rest of us. They are very often the worst possible person to make critically important decisions for their daughters. In cultures where males are automatically anointed The Patriarch (because: male) and allowed wide leeway in making critically-important decisions for their chattel (wives and children), they very often make horribly ignorant, ill-informed, selfish, self-serving or downright cruel, brutal choices. The arranged marriages of small girls to males in their 40’s is not an accidental result within patriarchal societies – these marriages are the logical outcome we should expect when males are raised to value themselves so highly and females so little.

An honest assessment of human strengths and weaknesses makes it clear that human societies don’t need male priests or imams or lords making our decisions for us. We don’t need patriarchs. We need the rule of law, informed by input from all rational, competent adults – including free, educated females. All persons – male and female – should be raised from birth to expect that they will be exercising independent, ethical judgement in all important matters of their lives as their birthright.