Girls forced into ‘pleasure marriages’

 

Rusul winces as her pimp administers the contraceptive injection - she's just had sex for money and her much older client also happens to be her husband.

The Iraqi teen is a victim of "pleasure marriage" - a horrific interpretation of a type of Islamic marriage that allows men to wed girls as young as nine for just weeks, days or even hours - just so they can have sex with them, The Sun reports.

Rusul has been married dozens of times - some marriages lasting just three hours.

Each time, she's given a dowry - which can be around $360 - and is forced into a quick wedding ceremony, after which she is expected to have sex with her new husband.

But her spouses - usually old men - can be violent, with some forcing her to perform their favourite sex acts even when she resists.

And the marriages always have an end date, leaving Rusul alone following the horrendous assaults.

Rusul (right) tells BBC journalist Nawal Al-Maghafi how she’s been forced into ‘pleasure marriages’. Picture: BBC Arabic
Rusul (right) tells BBC journalist Nawal Al-Maghafi how she’s been forced into ‘pleasure marriages’. Picture: BBC Arabic

The brave teen appears in a new BBC documentary that shines a light on the illegal practice of "pleasure marriage" and how it's being used to pimp out vulnerable girls in war-torn Iraq. Obviously, the vast majority of Muslims find the practice absolutely abhorrent.

The program, Iraq's Secret Sex Trade, features undercover footage of Shia clerics near some of the country's holiest shrines offering to marry off little girls, including a 12-year-old orphan.

LITTLE GIRLS SOLD FOR SEX

The show also speaks to victims like Rusul who have been repeatedly sold off for sex, trapped in prostitution rings and driven to contemplating suicide.

"The Sayyid (her cleric) brings drugs for me, to make sure I don't get pregnant. Mostly injections," Rusul, who has lost count of her number of marriages, tells BBC Arabic's Nawal Al-Maghafi.

She adds: "I'm forced to do things I don't want. Even if I resist, it still happens."

One man who uses clerics to procure "affordable" women and girls for him to temporarily marry reveals the younger, "fresh" girls are the most expensive - earning the holy men around $1180 for each one.

PRACTICE DATING BACK CENTURIES

In Iraq, unmarried couples aren't permitted to have sex. So for some men, the solution is to pay for a temporary wife whom they can sleep with through a "pleasure marriage" - or "mutaa".

These types of marriage date back centuries and are for sexual enjoyment, not procreation.

Today they are illegal under Iraqi civil law - yet some clerics claim they're allowed under Islamic law and can provide divorcees and widows with a source of income.

 

Rusul says: ‘I’m forced to do things I don’t want. Even if I resist, it still happens.’ Picture: BBC Arabic
Rusul says: ‘I’m forced to do things I don’t want. Even if I resist, it still happens.’ Picture: BBC Arabic

"Prostitution is illegal and irreligious. It's merely an agreement for sex in return for money. But if it's based on religious rules that society accepts then it's halal, just like marriage," one cleric claims.

The BBC found "pleasure marriages" are being offered at some marriage offices near holy shrines like Karbala and Kadhimiya in Baghdad, where millions of Shia Muslims flock every year.

And, sickeningly, girls still of primary school age are being sold for sex.

The legal marriage age in Iraq is 18 - but in Karbala, Cleric Sayyed Mustafa Salawi says he would be happy officiating a mutaa marriage between a 12-year-old girl and an undercover reporter.

When asked by the reporter whether it's OK that the girl is young, Mr Salawi replies: "Nine years plus, there's no problem at all. According to sharia, there's no problem."

He adds that foreplay and anal sex are permitted, as long as the girl's virginity isn't taken.

"You're allowed to do it from behind. Do what you desire," he says.

However, religious authorities in the area slam the practice. One tells Ms Al-Maghafi: "It's forbidden. It would be punished with three to 15 years in prison. Even if the perpetrator was a cleric."

Cleric Sayyed Mustafa Salawi says nine-year-old girls can be married off to men. Picture: BBC Arabic
Cleric Sayyed Mustafa Salawi says nine-year-old girls can be married off to men. Picture: BBC Arabic

 

'YOU CAN HAVE FOREPLAY … TOUCH HER BREASTS'

But in Kadhimiya, another cleric, Sayyed Raad - who claims he's descended from Prophet Muhammad - offers to sort out a "pleasure marriage" for the undercover reporter with a shockingly young girl.

He even says he can arrange a "first-class" hotel with a fridge for the newlyweds.

"A man can marry as many women as he wants," Mr Raad tells the reporter on a hidden camera. "You can marry a girl for half an hour and as soon as it's over you can marry another one straight away."

He adds that the reporter's marriage to a 13-year-old virgin would be "halal" providing he doesn't have vaginal sex with her, saying: "You can have foreplay, lie with her, touch her body, her breasts."

Like Mr Salawi, Mr Raad says anal sex would be "fine". When the reporter then asks what if the girl gets hurt, he replies: "That's between you and her. Whether she can take the pain."

Undercover footage also shows Raad agreeing to procure a girl for the journalist - yet when later approached by the BBC for a response, he completely denied performing mutaa marriages.

 

Cleric Sayyed Raad tells an undercover reporter he could procure a girl for him. Picture: BBC Arabic
Cleric Sayyed Raad tells an undercover reporter he could procure a girl for him. Picture: BBC Arabic

 

DIVORCEES AND WIDOWS FORCED INTO SEX EXPLOITATION

With "pleasure marriages", both parties must agree to a contract specifying the end date and dowry. However, these contracts don't have to be written - they can simply be verbal.

And in many cases, women and girls feel like it's their only option.

Widow Reem ended up in a "pleasure marriage" after her husband died in a bombing by the Islamic State terror group, which took over swathes of Iraq and Syria before it collapsed earlier this year.

After she and her kids lost their home, she turned to a cleric for help.

"He asked me to do a pleasure marriage with him. To be honest, I accepted. I didn't hesitate," she says in the program, adding that she felt like she had to agree to it to survive.

But before long, Reem claims she was being sold to the cleric's pals as he married her off to them. Crying, she recalls how one of the men told her: "You have to have sex with me."

"I felt abused, I was forced, raped," she says. "They wanted violent sex."

Nagham Kadhim, who runs a women's rights group in Najaf, tells NPR: "The mutaa marriage happens when there is an economic factor, like when the woman is poor and (does) not have money."

Although some of these marriages can last for years, others end in just hours. When they expire, only the man can renew it, while the woman and their kids if they have any - have no protection.

Men can also reportedly choose to end such agreements early.

Reem, seen in the documentary, ended up in a ‘pleasure marriage’ after her husband died in an IS bombing. Picture: BBC Arabic
Reem, seen in the documentary, ended up in a ‘pleasure marriage’ after her husband died in an IS bombing. Picture: BBC Arabic

VANISHING HUSBANDS

In Rusul's case, she didn't even realise she was in a "pleasure marriage" at first.

She'd been so excited to tie the knot but couldn't read the marriage contract, trusted her caring husband-to-be and believed the money she was being offered was a normal dowry.

Minutes after they tied the knot, she was taken to a nearby flat by her new spouse for sex.

In following days, Rusul was happy and in love - but just weeks later, her new husband vanished. It was only then that the teenager realised she had become the victim of a temporary marriage.

Returning to the cleric who conducted the wedding, she was told she'd now never find a real husband - and desperate and alone, she felt like she had little choice but to agree to be sold for sex again.

Now she's been pimped out for three years - and has had dozens of husbands.

Yet despite her ongoing exploitation, the Iraqi Government told the BBC: "If women don't go to the police with their complaints against clerics, it's difficult for the authorities to act."

Rana, a divorcee in her 20s, describes a similar experience to Rusul with her own "pleasure marriage". For the first three joyful days, she had no idea that it was a temporary one.

"He was ordering food, cherishing me. When you're broken and someone comes and gives you hope it's very precious," says Rana, who was forced to flee Mosul for Baghdad after IS invaded the city.

But then her husband unexpectedly vanished during a shopping trip.

Today, devastated Rana has been shunned by her family after they discovered she was in a "pleasure marriage" and has had to turn to prostitution to making a living.

And worryingly, she, Rusul and Reem are not alone in this religious sex trade.

"This is something that is very widespread. There are many girls like me," Rusul says.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission


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