The Iraqi Government and Religious Authority in Najaf Must Prohibit ‘Tatbir' on Children

The Iraqi Government and Religious Authority in Najaf Must Prohibit ‘Tatbir' on Children

17 - october 2016

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights strongly criticizes actions, such as ‘tatbir,’ done in the name of religious rituals that expose children to injuries, and pose a clear violation to children’s rights. During this ritual, children are often unaware of what is being done to them, or the severity of these actions. They cannot object or express their opinions on what happens to them.

‘Tatbir’ is a form of religious ritual that involves self-flagellation, where one strikes the head with a knife until blood gushes out. The ritual is carried out yearly by some Shia communities on the occasion of Ashoura’, on the 10th day of Muharram, the first month in the ‘Hijri’ Islamic calendar, to commemorate the killing of Imam Al-Hussein in the Battle of Karbala.

Aside from other means of self-flagellation that may have less severe consequences, Tatbir is particularly dangerous due to the damage it causes to the head, potentially leading to mild or severe head and brain injuries. It is especially damaging when done to children, who are still in the developing stages of growth. Such injuries to the head area could cause severe and permanent damage to the head and brain. The phenomenon has spread rapidly during recent years, with more children being exposed to the ritual. They are often shown in photographs with blood flowing down on their heads and bodies.

During Tatbir, children wear black outfits with a white cloth to cover the upper body. They, or their parents or relatives start striking lightly on the head until blood starts to flow. Many pictures of innocent bleeding children have spread on social media, without any accountability or control over the people posting them.

In the past few days, a video was posted showing a group of people, seemingly health personnel, place a baby on a bed in a location that was indistinguishable. They wrapped his head, where he had been exposed to Tatbir, with a piece of cloth while his clothes were covered with blood.

In that video, someone asked about the age of the baby, and another answered, "three months." Since the video surfaced, conflicting information spread on social media on whether the baby was dead or alive.

Article 383 of the Iraqi Penal Code in 1969 states that “any person who by himself or through another endangers a child under 15 years of age or person who is unable to defend himself by reason of his state of health or mental or psychological condition is punishable by a period of detention not exceeding 3 years or by a fine not exceeding 300 dinars.”

Moreover, Article 413 from the same Code states that “Any person who willfully assaults another by wounding or beating him or by committing any other unlawful act and causes him to be harmed or become ill is punishable by a period of detention not exceeding 1 year plus a fine not exceeding 100 dinars,” or through other penalties depending on the situation.

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) holds all Iraqi political blocs responsible for the suffering of children because of the political gridlock that prevent the adoption of the children rights legislation years ago in the Iraqi Shura Council. Furthermore, the lack of interest from members of parliament in children’s rights further exacerbates violations of children’s rights.

The IOHR calls upon the Iraqi Government to intervene to end the practice of Tatbir, which many children are forced to suffer, and which is considered an act of violence that may inspire actions that destroy societal peace.

The IOHR calls on the religious authorities in Najaf and other prominent religious figures and authorities with large influence in society, to forbid the practice of Tatbir generally and particularly on children because of its dangerous implications. The IOHR lauds the efforts of several religious figures who have already denounced and forbade the practice, calling instead for people to revive the commemorations of Ashoura’ through blood donations, rather than self-flagellation that is harmful to themselves and their children.


In addition, the IOHR reaffirms the need for the Iraqi Council of Representatives to legislate a law criminalizing those who expose children to Tatbir and other harmful practices to reduce the suffering and violations against children.

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