Exchange marriage in Iraqi-Kurdistan

Domestic violence and repressive family relations are still a big problem in Iraqi-Kurdistan. In this article, Khalat Salh from our Wadi team in Garmyan reports on a traditional convention, called “Zhn ba zhn”, which is practiced until today.

Zhn ba zhn/exchange marriage is a traditional way of arranged marriage where a girl becomes exchanged for a man. Usually the girl’s brother or a man in her family like a cousin or uncle has to marry a girl from another family which causes many issues because the girls are the victims of the men that they have to marry. This traditional kind of marriage arrangement was very common in the past but even nowadays it happens from time to time and the negative effects on the families and society are still the same.

B. 49 (code name) is a victim of Zhn ba zhn/exchange marriage. She talks about her experience: “My brother wanted to get married thus they married me off in exchange for his bride although I was very young so I could not get pregnant for three years. That effected a lot of problems for me and my family.” She continues describing that when her sister-in-law had a problem with her brother and left her home herself also had to leave her home and until now she is the victim of her brother’s family issue.

The most common problem of exchange marriage, besides not respecting the will and wish of the girls to marry the person they want, is that if one of the couples has an issue in their marriage life it affects the other couple, too.

S. (code name) is another victim of exchange marriage. She was married off in exchange to a bride for her brother. After one week she was forced to get divorced because her brother and her sister-in-law had problems. As a result her in-laws sent her home even without telling her husband about it.

According to law Nr. 8 of combating domestic violence of Kurdistan Region law, exchange marriage is illegal and it is a kind of violence against women which has its sentence in law. However, according to humanitarian organizations this phenomenon still exists in the society.
S. R., the head of Saya organization for women empowerment, said that Zhn ba zhn/exchange marriage still exists in Kurdistan Region. She talks about 10 cases of exchange marriage in one year if not more and according to humanitarian actors this phenomenon is mostly common in the rural areas.

written by Khalat Salh