One of the victims speaks to the BBC about her experience
One of the victims speaks to the BBC about her experience Image Credit: Screen grab from BBC report

Dubai: A sex racket has been uncovered where Shiite clerics are marrying girls off for a few hours in Mut’ah or pleasure marriages.

A team of journalists went undercover in Iraq to investigate allegations that some clerics are acting as pimps and sending women into prostitution while exploiting a marriage contract called Mut’ah.

What is Mut’ah marriages?

Mut’ah or ‘pleasure marriages’ are conducted by Shiite clerics and is illegal in Iraq by law. However, some in the Shiite sect continue the practice. Under the Mut’ah contract, the man and woman can be married for a stipulated time – from a few hours to several days, with no obligations on the man. It is not the man’s problem if the woman gets pregnant. He has no financial or moral obligation.

The clerics went far beyond the practice of conducting a marriage contract, they acted as pimps, providing men with underage girls for $120, and making the practice a norm sanctioned by religion.

In the BBC report, the undercover male reporter heads to meet a Shiite cleric, who was able to provide a 13-year-old girl. The reporter was advised by the cleric to do a contract for one hour only as “the girl provided should stay a virgin, but other practices can be done with her.”

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The same cleric explained to the reporter that “Sharia does not set a limit for a temporary marriage. A man can marry as many women as he wants, and he can marry a girl for half-an-hour, and another girl after the half-an-hour period ends.”

Another cleric assured the reporter that he won’t be abusing the girl: “It’s okay to have sex with a girl from the age of nine and above.”

The same clerics were reached officially by BBC London on the phone. When asked if they conduct such practices, they denied their involvement and said they only abide with normal marriage contracts. They follow the school of Ayatullah Sistani, one of the highest religious references among Shiite Muslims.

When the BBC contacted the offices of Al Sistani, they got a statement saying that those practices are condemned. A real follower of Sistani wouldn’t do it. The statement said the clerics are using the name of God and religion in wrongdoings.

Ghaith Al Tamimi, a former Shiite cleric from Iraq, who now lives in exile in London for objecting to religious extremism, denounced the clerics who use Mut’ah to exploit women and that what is being reported is a crime that must be punishable by law.

Exploited girls

One girl speaking anonymously said she was lured to a Mut’ah marriage by a cleric at the age of 13, and there are many girls like her. It’s common and spreading, she said, stressing that “it destroys the girl’s life, there is no future for us.”

An older women said she came to the cleric looking for financial help. In Islam this is common, the poor go to clerics to get help from the rich people of community. The system is called Sadaqah.

But instead of helping her he offered to marry her under a Mut’ah contract and pay her. She agreed because she had no other option, not knowing that he is luring her into a bigger circle, and started offering her to his friends and clients.

It is estimated that about one million Iraqi women have been widowed and many displaced after the wars in Iraq, prompting many of them to accept a Mut’ah marriage because of need.