(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
From 2014 to 2015, 729 underage couples registered for marriage, according to a report by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee released on Monday.
According to the report out of the 729 cases reported, 466 of the marriages were performed illegally.
The Age of Marriage Law in Israel stipulates 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.
According to the report, 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. 466 of the cases were performed illegally. Among Jews, the majority of underage couples registered for marriage in the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem.
Government offices and police have turned a blind eye to this issue, charged the committee.
There is an extreme inconsistency in the cases being reported by the various government institutions, according to the committee.
In 2012, there were 90 cases of underage marriage reported, but police opened an investigation into only one case.
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.
The committee expressed concern over a growing phenomena wherein many underage couples get married in private, illegal ceremonies, registering for marriage only once the couple reaches the age of 18 or following the birth of a child.
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) said that the continued issue of underage marriage is not based in the law itself, but in the enforcement of the law.
"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," she said to the committee.
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman demanded that the parties responsible for conducting these marriages be punished and pay the price and stand as an example for others.
"The data shows that this issue is not a priority in the system," she said. "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.
MK Uri Maklev (UTJ) spoke in favor of juvenile matrimony stating that many woman who wed at a young age "find great happiness in marriage and have many grandchildren and great grandchildren."
The chairman of the committee, MK Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) suggested 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 emphasized the importance of finding indicators of juvenile marriage within the education system and recommended an additional meeting to discuss the phenomena of underage marriage in the Jewish community.