Forced Marriage Overseas: The Palestinian Territories
Individuals from the United States may face substantial challenges if trying to avoid and/or escape a forced marriage in the Palestinian Territories, which include the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Women and girls have limited rights, and frequently face domestic abuse, forced marriages, and honor related violence. It is often difficult for victims to access safety and justice through law enforcement or the legal system.1
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in the Palestinian Territories, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in the Palestinian Territories
Women and girls in the Palestinian Territories have limited rights when entering into or attempting to dissolve a marriage. Marriage and divorce in the Palestinian Territories is governed by the Palestinian Personal Status Code (based on Jordanian law)2 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Egyptian Personal Status Code in Gaza Strip.3 Shari’ah law also governs marriages and divorces of Palestinian Muslims (the majority), with disputes settled in Shari’ah courts.4 Recognized Christian communities have their own tribunals and apply their own personal status laws.5
In the West Bank, the age of consent for marriage is 15 for girls and 16 for boys.6 In Gaza, the age of consent is 17 for girls and 18 for boys.7 Women and girls often have little say in whom they marry, and the father/guardian’s consent is generally required, even if the bride is an adult.8 In both territories, women have limited rights to divorce their husbands, and it is much more difficult for women to dissolve marriage than it is for men.9
There are no laws explicitly addressing forced or child marriages, and both remain a significant problem in the Palestinian Territories. Recent reports found that around 35% of marriages registered in Gaza in 2012 involved girls under the age of 17, with poverty and unemployment contributing to the problem.10 Testimonials from girls and women gathered by NGO’s document that many are forced into marriage against their will.11 Intra-family marriages are often forced upon girls in order to keep the family wealth from being transferred outside the extended family,12 and girls who do not agree to such marriages are often made to give up their inheritances.13
Furthermore, when a woman is raped or thought not to be a virgin, she may be forced by her family or tribal judges to marry the accused or some other person her family chooses.14 This marriage can insulate the perpetrator from prosecution under criminal codes in the West Bank and Gaza.15
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
It is unlikely that women and girls in the Palestinian Territories will be protected from forced marriage under the law or through the traditional tribal court system. Domestic violence is widespread, with a 2011 survey finding that 29.9% of the women in the West Bank, and 51% of the women in the Gaza Strip, reporting abuse. Women typically turn to family members for help in such situations, and less than one percent sought help from an agency.16 The police are also not well equipped to deal with violence against women as they lack trained staff, firm policies of confidentiality, and often place blame on the victim.17 Violence against women and girls is often viewed as a private matter, and police may defer to tribes, with their own laws and systems, to resolve family disputes as well as certain criminal matters.18 Under these tribal systems, “honor” is paramount, and women may be killed for being perceived as bringing dishonor on her family or tribe.19 Movement restrictions imposed by Israel at the borders between Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip have also prevented police and local NGOs from intervening and offering protection in some honor violence situations.20
There are a number of local government and NGO run agencies and shelters that offer support to victims of violence, including legal services, mental health counseling, and social services.21 However, there is a stigma attached to women who seek out services and live at shelters, who are often thought to be criminals or prostitutes, and such agencies often are underfunded and lacking critical services.22
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Individuals from the United States that are fleeing forced marriage situations in the Palestinian Territories may face significant challenges exiting the West Bank and Gaza Strip. U.S. citizens may be subject to prolonged questioning and thorough searches by Israeli authorities upon entry or departure.23 It is particularly difficult to get assistance from the U.S. government or exit the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control of the territory.24 There are also reports that government officials may demand proof that a male guardian has given his permission to a woman before she can obtain travel documents.25 Please check the entry and exit requirements for the Palestinian Territories for the most up to date information.
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in the Palestinian Territories, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department does not have a formal diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Territories, but serves the area through its Consulate General in Jerusalem. Consular staff may be unable to enter and provide assistance to individuals in the West Bank and Gaza. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in the Palestinian Territories.
- U.S. Embassy Jerusalem
Contact the embassy in the case of an emergency.
1 United Nations, United Nations Development Assistance Framework in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Comprehensive Analysis (draft) (November 2012), at 12, available at http://www.undg.org/docs/13107/oPt-UNDAF—CA-draft2.pdf (last visited December 20, 2012).
2 Adrien Katherine Wing & Hisham Kassim, The Future of Palestinian Women’s Rights: Lessons from a Half-Century of Tunisian Progress, 64 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1551, 1561 (Fall 2007).
3 Gaza Law of Family Rights (1954).
4 Lynn Welchman, Women and Muslim Family Laws in Arab States: A Comparative Overview of Textual Development and Advocacy (2007), at 13.
5 Emory Law Summary, Palestine/Palestinian Territories of West Bank and Gaza Strip, available at http://aannaim.law.emory.edu/ifl/legal/palestine.htm (last visited August 1, 2014); Diaa Hadid; Palestinians Chip Away at Male Divorce Monopoly (August 31, 2012), available at http://bigstory.ap.org/article/palestinians-chip-away-male-divorce-monopoly (last visited August 1, 2014).
6 Palestinian Personal Status Code 61, Art. 5.
7 UNICEF, Occupied Palestinian Territory MENA Gender Equality Profile: Status of Girls and Women in the Middle East and North Africa 2 (October 2011) , available at http://www.unicef.org/gender/files/oPT-Gender-Eqaulity-Profile-2011.pdf.
8 Wing & Kassim, The Future of Palestinian Women’s Rights, Washington and Lee Law Review, Vol. 64 (2007), at 1561; Gaza Law 2 art. 11.
9 Palestinian Personal Status Code 4, Art. 33-34; Abeer Ayyoub, Palestinian Women Hope to Gain Divorce Rights, Al-Monitor (September 2, 2013).
10 Jalal, Forced Underage Marriages Continue in Gaza, Al Monitor (August 2013), available at http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/underage-marriage-child-palestinians-gaza.html#.
11 Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, Why Palestinian Women and Girls Do Not Feel Secure (2010), at 35.
12 Ahmed Alkabariti, Gaza’s Women Forced into Intra-Family Marriages over Inheritance, The Atlantic Post (October 19, 2013).
13 Adrien Katherine Wing, Democracy, Constitutionalism and the Future State of Palestine (1994).
14 Id; Hallie Ludsin, Putting the Cart Before the Horse: The Palestinian Constitutional Drafting Process 10 UCLA J. Int’l L. & Foreign Aff. 454. (2005).
15 Ministry of Women’s Affairs; National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women (2011), available at http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/Headquarters/Media/Stories/en/PalestinianAuthorityNationalStrategytoCombatpdf.pdf (last visited January 24, 2014); 1960 Jordanian Penal Code art. 308; 1936 British Penal Code art. 42.
16 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Violence Survey in the Palestinian Society, 2011 Main Findings. Ramallah – Palestine (2012), at 23.
17 Ministry of Women’s Affairs; National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women, (2011), available at http://www.unwomen.org/~/media/Headquarters/Media/Stories/en/PalestinianAuthorityNationalStrategytoCombatpdf.pdf (last visited January 24, 2014).
18 UN, United Nations Development Assistance Framework in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Comprehensive Analysis (draft) (November 2012), at 12, available at http://www.undg.org/docs/13107/oPt-UNDAF—CA-draft2.pdf (last visited December 20, 2012).
19 Dr. Ali Qleibo, Honour Crimes and Tribal Laws in Palestine (October 2009), available at http://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=2892&ed=174&edid=174, (last visited January 27, 2014).
20 Human Rights Watch, A Question of Security Violence Against Palestinian Women and Girls, Vol. 18, No. 7(E) (November 2006), available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/opt1106/opt1106web.pdf (last visited January 24, 2014).
21 United Nations Economic and Social Counsel, Situation of and Assistance to Palestinian Women (December 18, 2012), available at http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/66C95A9E4BFE6CE085257B3300634A35, (last visited January 24, 2014); Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler, Palestine: Mehwar Centre for Women and Children (March 8, 2009), available at http://www.wluml.org/node/5385, (last visited January 24, 2014); United Nations Women, In Palestine, a Centre offers Shelter and changes Lives for Survivors of Violence (March 13, 2013), available at http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2013/3/in-palestine-a-centre-offers-shelter-and-changes-lives-for-survivors-of-violence (last visited January 26, 2014).
22 Arwa, Aburawa, Palestinian Women are being Failed by Refuge and Shelter Services (November 8, 2012), available at http://arwafreelance.com/2012/11/08/palestinian-women-are-being-failed-by-refuge-and-shelter-services/ (last viewed January 26, 2014).
23 U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Passports & International Travel, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Country Specific Information, available at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1064.html.
24 Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook, Gaza Strip, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/gz.html.
25Sanja Kelly and Julia Breslin, ed.,Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance; Palestine Chapter (2010).