Bar-Ilan University’s Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Centre for the Advancement of the Status of Women is joining women around the country in celebrating a historic day for the state of Israel.
This week, the Knesset passed a bill that will raise the minimum legal marriage age in Israel to 18, up by one year from the current age of 17.
The bill, brought before the Knesset by Gila Gamliel (Likud Beitenu), coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud Beitenu), Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On and others, is the culmination of a three-year effort initiated by the Rackman Centre.
A report prepared by the Centre laid the groundwork for the bill’s proposal, revealing that about 4,500 minors are married annually in Israel, 4,000 of whom are girls; that about a third of the married minors are Jewish, and the rest mostly Muslim; and approximately 500 of them are under 16.
This new law is aimed at abolishing child marriage in Israel. If enforced properly, it has the potential to prevent teenage girls and boys from dropping out of school and jeopardising their own future by marrying so very young.
These girls (or, more accurately, their parents and often the elders in their communities) will now be obliged to wait one more year, during which time they will have the chance to mature both mentally and physically before they tie their life to that of another and take upon themselves the responsibilities inherent in starting a new family, which often also translates into immediate motherhood.
In conservative communities, many cases of child marriage are in fact forced marriages, which later result in strong negative effects on the lives of the married girls and their families.
Even more importantly, the bill bans the family courts from approving marriage of minors under 16 in any circumstances and strikes out pregnancy as a cause for permitting marriage under 18.
Over the past decade, the courts have undergone a transition in authorising child marriage. They have stopped granting permission for marriage on the basis of pregnancy and in general there has been a decrease in the number of authorised marriages under 17.
It is clear that the new law is in sync with this trend, and reflects the understanding that marriage, although it provides some kind of family framework, should not be regarded as the “solution” for young, pregnant girls and their babies.
The time has come to adopt this law in Israel and prevent early marriage and motherhood among girls who are not ready for it either physically or mentally. The existing law, passed more than 60 years ago, is not at all compatible with the social advancement and research developments that have taken place since then.
Israel’s legal situation will now be consistent with that in Western countries and a large number of Arab and Muslim countries. This is a great day for the advancement of women in Israel. The Knesset has finally acknowledged and accepted that a child is a child — and not a bride.