In First, Israel Files Charges Against Parents for Underage Marriage

Five Bedouin parents charged with marrying off their teenage daughters

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Sharia court in Be'er Sheva, November 2018
Sharia court in Be'er Sheva, November 2018Credit: Ilan Assayag

Israeli prosecutors filed charges against parents who married their minor daughters, for the first time in the history of the state.

Four fathers and a mother, all coming from Bedouin communities in the Negev, were charged with marrying four adolescents, their daughters, who were all 16 and 17. According to a statement by the  State Attorney's office, there was a wide age gap between the betrothed in some of the marriage agreements.

The indictments, filed on Wednesday with the Be'er Sheva Magistrate's Court, deal with four weddings in 2016 and 2017, which were subsequently ratified by the Sharia Court, a Muslim religious body overseen by the Justice Ministry. Religious authorities are the only recognized authority for marriages and divorces in Israel, and each community answers to their own courts.

According to an official in the State Attorney's Office in the Southern District, several other cases of minor marriages are under investigation by the police.

Between 1950 and 2017, the minimum age of marriage was set at 17, according to the Marriage Age Act. It has since been raised to 18, with special exceptions allowed only with express consent from a family court in case of special circumstances, and then again for minors aged 16 or above.

The Marriage Age Act also prohibits parents from marrying minors, and anyone from performing or helping in this kind of marriage ceremonies.

In May 2018, the Attorney General published new guidelines on underage marriage in which he called for stricter enforcement. Since then, Sharia courts have been under the obligation to report whether there is a concern about underage marriage.

According to 2016 data presented by the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the Population Authority registered 729 couples involving a minor, 477 of them in East Jerusalem. Of the Jewish underage couples who were married without permission, 22 had been registered with the Haredi Community Marriage Department in Jerusalem.

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