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Israel: Minimum Marriage Age Raised to 18

(Nov. 12, 2013) On November 4, 2013, the Knesset passed the Marriage Age Law (Amendment No. 6), 5774-2013 (Israel's parliament) passed the Marriage Age Law (Amendment No. 6), 5774-2013. (Marriage Age Law (Amendment No. 6), 5774-2013 [in Hebrew], Knesset website (hereinafter Amendment Law); for an authorized English translation of the original Marriage Age Law, see 4 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL (LSI) 158, 5710-1949/50.)

The Amendment Law raises the minimum age for marriage from 17 to 18, the age that is currently recognized as the age of majority under section 3 of the Capacity and Guardianship Law, 5722-1962 (16LSI 106 (5722-1961/62, as amended). (Amendment Law, § 1.)

The Amendment Law replaces the conditions under which a family court is authorized to issue a marriage permit to a minor. It thus repeals the specific grounds of pregnancy and parenthood as justifications for the issuance of a permit for minors under the age of 17. Instead, the Amendment Law requires that the grant of a marriage permit to a minor under 18 years of age is to be based on a court determination that the grant is in the interests of the minor, after the court has heard from him/her. In a case involving a minor who is between the ages of 16 and 17, the Amendment Law requires that the court receive a report by a social worker, appointed for the purpose of implementation of the Law, prior to making any judicial determination. (Id. § 3.)

The Amendment Law also introduces a requirement that an annual report on the Law’s implementation be sent to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. The requirement applies to the following ministers within their relevant areas of responsibility: the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Religious Services, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Welfare and Social Services, and the Minister of Internal Security. (Id. § 4.).

In an op-ed piece by Kobi Nachshoni published in the Israeli newspaper YNET, the author expressed doubts that the Amendment Law would be successfully implemented in the haredi (Jewish ultra-Orthodox) community or among several Arab groups in Israel, where underage marriages are common. He opined:

According to Hasidic custom, the sons of distinguished rabbis marry even earlier in order to minimize the time between puberty and the wedding and to prevent young males from inappropriate thoughts or worse – sinful deeds. … . The ceremony for underage marriages in these communities is conducted privately by rabbis who do not report the event to the authorities. The registration for the wedding is completed at a later date, when both the bride and the groom reach the legal age. …

The deputy-chair of the Islamic Movement’s southern branch, Sheik Safot Frej, is [also] not concerned about the changes in the law: “Despite the new law, Islamic faith dictates the possibility of marriage for a minor. The sheik relies on witnesses from both families who ask the couple if they agree to marry. If they do, they can be married.” Ferj [sic] noted that “this does not mean that we support underage marriage, because the bride must be prepared to handle the relationship correctly. In no other way does religion prohibit a minor from marrying.” (Kobi Nachshoni, 17-Year-Old Wives: Law Passed Too Late for Us, YNETNEWS.COM (Nov. 5, 2013).)

In accordance with section 2 of the Marriage Age Law, a person who marries a minor, enables the marriage of a minor who is subjected to his/her guardianship, or officiates at such a marriage may be sentenced to two years of imprisonment or to a fine. (Marriage Age Law, § 2.)