The Iraqi parliament tabled a bill Tuesday that would allow children under the age of nine to be married.
Lawmakers appear to be largely in favor of passing the bill, known as the Jaafari Personal Status Law, which includes a marital rape clause that states a female must comply with the sexual demands of her husband.
The governing coalition wants to put it to a vote April 30, just before elections, in order to attract the support of Shia Muslims, the Telegraph reported.
Jaafari law is almost identical to those in Shia-dominated Iran.
"It turns women into tools for sexual enjoyment," said Hanaa Edwar, a leading activist and head of the charity Al-Amal. "It deletes all their rights."
Ayad Allawi, a former Iraqi prime minister, warned Tuesday that Jaafari law will lead to sexual violence.
"It allows for girls to be married from nine years of age and even younger," he said. "There are other injustices [contained in it] too."
The law gives husbands the guardianships of their wives and even sets down rules for holding a polygamous marriage. It also established rules for divorce, which largely favor the husband.
“[The] passage of the Ja’afari law would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq’s women and girls,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “This personal status law would only entrench Iraq’s divisions, while the government claims to support equal rights for all.”
"Iraq is in conflict and undergoing a breakdown of the rule of law," said Basma al-Khateeb, a women's rights activist, in a report from Human Rights Watch. "The passage of the Jaafari law sets the ground for legalized inequality."