The Age of Marriage Law specifies that any child, male or female, under the age of 18 may not marry without special permission that is granted by family court in exceptional cases. Any person involved in the facilitation of an illegal marriage between two minors could be subjected to up to two years in prison.
Various reports submitted to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee show that the law has not been enforced adequately. From 2014 to 2015, 729 underage couples registered for marriage in Israel. Of the 729 cases reported, 466 of the marriages were performed illegally.
According to the reports, 716 underage couples registered for marriage between March of 2014 and December of 2015, with 517 of the juvenile marriages being performed in Sharia court in Jerusalem; 466 of the cases were performed illegally. Among Jews, the majority of underage couples registered for marriage in the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem.
During its meeting on Monday, the committee said there is an extreme inconsistency in the cases being reported by the various government institutions.
In 2012, there were 90 cases of underage marriage reported, but police opened an investigation into only one case.
(Committee Chairman Slomiansky)
In 2014, the Interior Ministry reported 416 cases of underage marriage, but only 37 of those cases were investigated. Police officials recommended six indictments be filed, but ultimately all of the cases were dropped by the state prosecutor.
Minister for Social Equality Gila Gamliel (Likud) told the committee that ”In the past, some 4,000, mostly Muslim, women under the age of 18 got married each year. Most of these marriages ended in violence or divorce. Part of the problem is not the law, but the enforcement of it.” Gamliel noted that her mother married at the age of 16.
MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) said, ”The data shows that this issue is not a priority in the system. Those who conduct these marriages should be punished. We must create deterrence. It is not a wedding, but the marriage of children.”
”Marriage is a voluntary act by both parties – something that doesn`t exist with children,” she added.
Likud MK Anat Berko argued that underage marriages result in single-parent families. ”We must find a solution that will not allow the marriage of underage girls,” she stated. However, MK Uri Maklev of United Torah Judaism said that many women who wed at a young age ”find great happiness in marriage and have many grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
Committee Chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (HaBayit HaYehudi) said the data was ”very worrying” and called to prosecute those who conduct underage marriages, as well as the parents. ”The phenomenon may stop if a few parents will be put on trial,” he said, while arguing that the problem lies in that the statute of limitations for facilitating an underage marriage is only five years. If a marriage is not reported for five years it becomes impossible to then prosecute the parties involved, including the parents of the minors.
Slomiansky stressed the importance of finding indicators of juvenile marriage within the education system and announced that the committee would hold an additional meeting to discuss the phenomena of underage marriage in the Jewish community.