Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government has passed a law setting the minimum age for matrimony at 18 for both genders in an effort to reduce rates of early marriage.
“The new law is meant to protect Palestinian families and ensure the advancement of Palestinian women,” the government stated when it announced the coming law on July 27.
Exceptional cases will be determined by the chief justice.
According to statistics published by the Women’s Affairs Center in Gaza City, 37 percent of married Palestinian females wed when they were under the age of 18, including 5% who married before the age of 15. Sixty-three percent of young married women suffer violence at the hands of their husband, and 95% will not recommend early marriage for their daughters.
Child marriage is thought to contribute to the high rate of divorce in the Palestinian territories.
“This law came to put an end to the phenomenon of early marriage in Palestinian society and give females a chance to exercise their right to education. It’s an important law that will positively reflect on Palestinian society,” Ahmad Majdalani, the PA’s social affairs minister, told The Media Line.
Majdalani stressed that females have the right to fully live their childhood and utilize their youth to mature physically and psychologically.
“Females are not ready or able to start a family when they themselves are very young,” he said, adding that both genders need space.
Until now, the minimum age for marriage in the West Bank has been 15 for females and 16 for males, while in the Gaza Strip it has been 17 for females and 18 for males. Judges had the power to decide otherwise in certain cases, for example if the girl was mature and her father approved.
Palestinian women, speaking to The Media Line, expressed hope and joy over the new law, although some remained critical of certain aspects.
“At 18, girls are still very young to get married, in my opinion,” Cathren, 27, said, although she added that it was still much better than the previous minimum age.
“I think the age is fine as long as another clause is included stating that females must give full consent to the marriage,” she said.
Rola, 52, told The Media Line that at the age of 18, females are not mature enough to wed. Besides, it is a time for them to learn about life from experience.
“I prefer that both genders wait to get married at least until after they graduate from college,” she said. “They need to define their priorities and figure out who they are before making such a lifetime decision.”
Hanadi, 56, believes that raising the minimum age is in the best interest of females both health-wise and socially.
“Nowadays, girls are different than we were in the past; they aren’t ready for marriage biologically,” she elaborated. “I got married when I was 17, but the times were different. I was ready to be a wife, mother and student at the same time. However, not all females [today] have the capacity to do that.”
Still, Hanadi believes that 18 is not too young.
“It’s appropriate. The [minimum] age of marriage shouldn’t be raised more than that so as to avoid rebellion,” she said, explaining that the current young generation is very worldly thanks to the internet.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 67% of women who divorced in the Palestinian territories in 2018 were aged 18 to 29, versus 55% for men.
Dina Azouni, a young Palestinian activist, feels the new law is a great improvement although the main focus should be on whether or not there is genuine consent by the female.
“The dangerous cases are when women are forced to get married because their family wants money,” Azouni told The Media Line. “Setting the legal age at 18 is a step forward, but this doesn’t eliminate the problem of forced marriages in our country.”
Each week, thousands of Palestinian women and girls gather in the West Bank and elsewhere, demanding an end to physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence against women, and seeking a family protection law. As a result of the demonstrations, the PA’s Women’s Affairs Ministry said the government would enact a family protection law by the end of this year.
As for the new law on the age of consent, one women believes it came 25 years too late.
“It should have been one of the first laws passed by the Palestinian Authority,” Nahed Abu Tomeh, a West Bank activist, told The Media Line.
“The Palestinian government [at the time] had no real political will to make the decision as it wanted to avoid confrontations with those who were against the determination of an age for marriage,” she claimed.
Abu Tomeh added that the PA now had no choice in the matter, pointing out that it signed the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) Protocol in 2014. The protocol, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, calls on countries to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.