Activists Slam CIJD’s Personal Status Draft Law
AMMAN - Women activists on Tuesday criticised a new version of the personal status draft law prepared by the Chief Islamic Justice Department (CIJD), describing it as a step backward for women in Jordan.
The draft personal status law for 2010 included new clauses and amendments to the current law that was drafted in 1976, which the department said were in favour of women.
But activists said despite some positive amendments, the new law maintains Sharia judges' authority to allow the marriages of girls between the ages of 15 and 18 and scraps the khuloe law that was passed as a temporary law in December 2001.
According to the khuloe law, women may file for divorce without providing any justification, but must return any money or jewellery given to them by their husbands before the wedding and forsake any right to alimony. If the judge cannot reconcile the couple, the woman is granted a divorce.
“This is surely a setback. When khuloe was introduced we considered it a major achievement and now it seems we are going backwards and there is no justification for the CIJD’s decision,” Jordanian National Commission for Women Secretary General Asma Khader said.
Jordanian Women’s Union Vice President Nadia Shamroukh echoed Khader’s statements, saying that cancelling khuloe was a step backward that “will keep women filing for divorce in constant struggle in Sharia courts”.
But CIJD Sharia courts’ inspector, Judge Ashraf Omari, defended the draft law and the decision to scrap khuloe, saying that one of the reasons it was taken out was because the word “khuloe is not socially accepted”.
A second reason, Omari added, is that the draft law ensures that women get more rights and do not lose money when they file for divorce, as they usually do when they file a khuloe case.
“We have made sure that women will not suffer for a long time in court and that their financial rights will be guaranteed when they file for divorce,” Omari said.
He added that the draft law does not “require women to bring witnesses to testify to any mistreatment or abuse by the husband. Their own testimony is accepted and the judge will decide based on the situation”.
But Khader said the draft law means that women will still have to pay when they file for a divorce and it is not guaranteed that they will eventually be granted divorce. “It will be up to the Sharia judge to decide.”
Both Khader and Shamroukh also criticised the CIJD draft for stipulating exceptional situations in which the marriage of girls between the ages of 15 to 18 would be allowed.
“We are 100 per cent against this kind of marriage, but if for some pressing reason a marriage should occur, then there should be at least a committee of four or five Sharia judges who will examine the request and make the decision and not one judge as is the case now,” Khader stated.
Shamroukh said: “We receive cases of abused female children who were married before they reached 18, and when we ask them about the marriage procedures they tell us that it was easy and there were no questions asked by the judge.”
Of the 67,455 marriages that occurred in 2008, around 9,000 involved girls between the ages of 15 and 18, according to Omari.
Of these marriages, 907 have ended in divorce, Omari told The Jordan Times, adding that the CIJD turns down marriage requests for girls who are under 18 and sometimes below 15 on almost “a daily basis”.
The top Sharia judge pointed out that the marriages of minors are not a problem and that “the real problem in Jordan is that there are between 96,000 to 100,000 women over the age of 30 who have never been married”.
“This is a big problem that will work to create social problems and the spread of adultery in society. This is a big problem that needs to be addressed instead of criticising minors’ marriages,” Omari added.
Al Ghad’s editorial on Tuesday, titled, “Female child marriage is a slaughter to their innocence and a violation of their human rights”, heavily criticised the CIJD’s justification of marriages of girls ages between 15 to 18.
“It seems the legislators failed to notice that in order to solve these problems we need to face them instead of allowing the marriage of a 15-year-old girl,” the editorial said.
“It is unacceptable to send female children to a new and different world under… unacceptable excuses.”
Ad Dustour columnist Layla Atrash said in an article on marriages of female children, that all laws prevent women from exercising political participation or controlling her financial assets until she is 18.
“How do we expect a 15-year-old girl to be in charge of a family and children when the society does not trust her to be in charge politically or financially until she reaches 18?” Atrash wrote.
Other points of criticism from activists included reducing the custody rights for non-Muslim women in the case of a divorce to seven years instead of the age of puberty as it was before.
Shamroukh said a new word was added in the section on Fit Marriages stipulating that the bidder should be “religious” in addition to being financially fit to secure the marriage.
“Does this mean that a person who is not religious cannot get married?” Shamroukh asked.
Khader highlighted a “positive” amendment in the new draft law, which stipulates that property of the deceased should be registered in the name of the female immediately after death, and mandating a three-month waiting period before a female can waive her inheritance rights.
“This is very important because many women lost their inheritance rights because they were immediately approached by male relatives following the death of a relative and asked to sign documents that would waive their inheritance rights without knowing it,” Khader explained.
Shamroukh praised another change raising the age of child custody for divorced women to 15 instead of the age of puberty, although “we hoped that it would be 18 instead of 15”.
Another positive change, she added, was a clause stipulating that divorced parents can see their children at their homes instead of police stations or at local organisations.
The establishment of an alimony fund, which ensures a divorced woman her financial rights by obligating her ex-husband to pay her alimony through the fund, was also an important addition to the draft law, the two activists agreed.
Both Khader and Shamroukh said their organisations plan to hold public meetings and invite concerned parties, including officials from the CIJD, to discuss the draft law and demand changes that would “secure more rights for women”.
“This is only a draft and the idea is to receive people’s and organisations’ feedback and comments before we refer it to the Cabinet, who will then refer it to the Parliament for endorsement,” Omari said.