ACRI to Knesset: Raise Legal Marriage Age to 18

Religious Leaders Hinder Draft Legislation that would Protect Girls’‘ Freedom of Choice; Rights to Health, Development, and Education

JERUSALEM – November 15, 2007 – The Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Issues, of which ACRI is a founding member, calls on the Knesset to adopt legislation that would raise Israel’‘s legal marriage age from 17 to 18.

Child marriage, a phenomenon almost exclusively affecting girls, is a dangerous trend that proliferates in societies promoting traditional – and generally subservient – roles for women, often with the active support of religious leaders and politicians, according to Sonia Boulos, an attorney at ACRI. According to international conventions, all individuals under the age of 18 are children.

On Wednesday, November 21, one day after International Children’‘s Day, the Knesset will hold a preliminary hearing on draft legislation that would raise Israel’‘s legal marriage age from 17 to 18. However, religious parties as well as representatives of Jewish and Muslim religious courts and institutions have already expressed staunch opposition to the draft legislation.

Israel is one of the only Western countries to permit children to marry legally; several Middle Eastern countries also forbid child marriage, including Morocco and Jordan. In addition, numerous international treaties and conventions explicitly forbid child marriage.

"Child marriage is inextricably tied to stereotypical notions of women," said Attorney Boulos. "These norms state that women’‘s natural place is in the home, and that her main purpose is to give birth and raise her children."

"As a result, very few girls who marry before they turn 18 do so out of their own free will," Boulos added. "Even if no overt pressure is exerted or violence used, a girl growing up in a society that encourages her to marry young and fulfill her ‘‘natural’‘ duty as a wife and mother cannot truly exercise freedom of choice."

Child marriage encourages the absurd situation in which a married woman must obtain her parents’‘ consent to undergo medical treatment for pregnancy. Israeli children can marry, but cannot vote, buy alcohol, or apply for a mortgage.

Child marriage violates the following basic rights:

  • The Right to Health: Underage pregnancy frequently accompanies child marriage. Giving birth before reaching physical maturity often harms the mother’‘s body because she has not yet fully developed. In addition, many girls who marry do not have complete access to maternity and family planning services.

  • The Right to Education: The most blatant result of underage marriage is a high rate of school dropouts. Once married, many girls are coerced to become full-time homemakers, before completing their high school education. This, in turn, makes it difficult for them to integrate into the work force.

  • The Right to Emotional Well-being: Children are not equipped emotionally for marriage and parenthood. Child marriage often precipitates grave mental and emotional trauma, and harms the minors’‘ social development.

  • Between the years 2000-2005, 10,272 girls (under the age of 18) married in Israel. Of those, nearly 90% were 17 years old when they wed.

    ACRI and The Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Issues call on all Knesset members to vote on Wednesday to increase the age of marriage to 18 – to provide all of Israel’‘s female citizens with the opportunities and freedoms to which they are entitled, and to raise Israel’‘s child protection laws to international standards.

    The Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Issues is a coalition of individuals and organizations advancing women’‘s rights and human rights. Its members include the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Women Against Violence, Al-Tufula Pedagogical Centre and Multipurpose Women’‘s Centre in Nazareth, the Israel Women’‘s Network, Kayan, and private lawyers and social workers.

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    Categories: Child Rights, Social and Economic Rights, The Right to Education, The Right to Health

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