Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has issued a decision barring Palestinian teenagers from marrying before they turn 18 years old, unless they receive an exemption from a religious court and a top legal official.
The official PA news site Wafa reported earlier this week that Abbas made the decision, but did not say when.
In the West Bank, Palestinian law previously mandated that a female must be 15 years old and a male 16 years old to be eligible to marry, according to Suna Nassar, the PA Women’s Affairs Ministry’s legal adviser. Comparatively, in the Gaza Strip, it had held that a female must be 17 years old and a male 18, she said in a phone call.
The PA controls the West Bank, whereas Hamas rules Gaza. Hamas has not said publicly whether it will enforce Abbas’s decision.
A 2018 PA Central Bureau of Statistics report found that 10.8 percent of women in 2017 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip aged 20-24 had married before turning 18.
In contrast, the report determined that in 1997, 30.3% of women in the West Bank and Gaza who were then between 20 and 24 married before reaching 18.
Nassar said that those who would like to marry before turning 18 must receive a waiver from both a religious court and the PA’s supreme sharia judge.
The PA’s current supreme sharia judge is Mahmoud al-Habash.
She added that an example of someone who may receive a dispensation is a pregnant woman and her partner.
“There are benefits they can receive for their child, but only if they are married,” she said. “That is one of the reasons they may receive an exemption.”
Haifa al-Agha, a former PA women’s affairs minister, praised Abbas’s decision.
“This a very positive decision. It is the right of a child to live their childhood and receive an education,” she told The Times of Israel. “This decision will allow children to achieve those rights.”
Agha, who left the Women’s Affairs Ministry in April 2019, said she believed the PA president’s decision would also lower the divorce rate.
“Women will now be able to make more considered decisions when they decide to marry another person,” she said. “They will have greater maturity and understanding of the consequences of their decisions.”
She said that the phenomenon of Palestinians marrying before reaching 18 mainly exists in rural villages and communities in both the West Bank and Gaza.