Damascus: The proposed personal status law in Syria is causing a stir among religious authorities, activists and the public.

Campaigns against the law are taking place on ground and on internet websites, with participants calling for scrapping the draft and coming up with a new one that is more suitable to the modern Syrian society and which must take into considerations the rights of women, children and minorities.

Dr Mona Ganem, Director of the Syrian Development Centre, said the personal status law is a system to develop society, because "family is the basic cell of society", according to article 44 of the Syrian constitution.

"The nation's security requires a secure and stable family," she said.

Progress means moving forward, and this law is a strange and dangerous step backwards for Syria, Ganem said, adding that the new law is a threat to national unity, because it discriminates between citizens based on religion and sect.

"It allows the marriage of children, makes women's work linked to their husbands' approval and does not restrict polygamy, which contradicts with the national commitments outlined by the constitution and the strategic plans of the Syrian government, and the international treaties signed by Syria," she said.

New concepts must be introduced based on citizenship and of marriage as a partnership, while women's dignity and rights should be protected, Ganem said.

According to her, the law must give women rights to run their own lives and also prevent marriage of children below 18 years old.

"We hope this draft law would be scrapped, and a committee comprising law, society and religion scholars would be set up to form a new law, suitable for the Syrian society in the 21st century," she added.

One of the lobbyists against the law, Bassam Al Qadi, Director of Syrian Women Observatory, said the law rings alarm bells at many levels.

"The law cancels the concepts of citizenship, humanity, rights and duties and replaces them with sect. It gives men absolute authority over women and allows the marriage of children, but the real disaster is that people with backward mentality reached a decision-making rank that allowed them to draft this law," he said.

This is a real threat to society, because being arrogant towards people with other beliefs is the seed of sectarian strife, he said.

"Legislating violence and discrimination against women leads to the disintegration of family, and the same applies to violence against children, such as allowing the marriage of children.

"Children are main victims of human trafficking, because young girls are often married off to elder foreign men, and after their husbands leave, these girls may be forced to work in prostitution," he said.

"Not only is the law a violation of human rights, it also tarnishes the image of Islam by showing it as a religion of violence, discrimination and violation of child rights," Al Qadi added.

By Dina Aboul Hosn, Staff Reporter, 23/6/2010, (Draft law on 'society' causes stir among Syrian religious authorities and public)

Gulf News..