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I was told that behind closed doors many of these clerics were using and abusing Sharia marriage laws to exploit women for profit. These men were grooming vulnerable girls and young women, trapping them into prostitution and pimping them out, all with seemingly total impunity.
For such a story, we needed to secure evidence on camera. We recruited a male undercover reporter who, over the course of our year-long investigation, met and secretly filmed several of the clerics running the Sharia marriage offices in the vicinity of the shrines. First, our undercover reporter approached a number of clerics with marriage offices near the shrine of Kadamiya in Baghdad to gauge how many were willing to perform mutaa ceremonies.
Out of 10 clerics that were approached, eight agreed to arrange a pleasure marriage for our reporter. We found that teenage girls were particularly vulnerable to predatory men assisted by clerics, often paying the heaviest of prices for their misfortune. In Iraq , for a young girl to lose her virginity outside of marriage is widely seen as a scandal bringing shame on her family and tainting its honour.
Such girls are often disowned and shunned by their families. In some cases, the girls are murdered. One of them, Mona, was just 14 when an older man started following her home from school. Her uncle, she tells me, killed her cousin merely for having a boyfriend. Now she keeps thinking about suicide.
If I feel more pressure, I will do it. At the main marriage office, I spoke to Sheikh Emad Alassady, who insisted the practice was illegal. But around the corner from the office, we found another cleric who was willing to officiate a pleasure marriage to a child, including giving explicit instructions on how to sexually abuse children without getting caught. This cleric was clearly not the only one taking part in such abuses. Reem said that when she approached a well-known cleric for alms, he had sex with her and pimped her out to his friends.