Foreign Policy Blogs

Syrian refugees struggle to cope and seek child marriage as a solution

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Recent concerns have sparked as child marriages spike among Syrian refugees in Jordan.  Difficult conditions in Jordan have many parents pushing to have their daughters married at an earlier age.   The issue has created a concern among many international aid organizations that the rise in child marriage has been brought on as a sort of coping mechanism to adjusting to life as a refugee in the country. The majority of these young girls are in their early teens and are increasingly being married to older Syrian men as a form of financial and other security against a backdrop of conflict and instability.  Early marriage is against the laws of both Syria (minimum age of marriage at 17 for boys and 16 for girls) and Jordan.  However, in Syria, religious leaders may still approve “informal marriages” at  for girls  from 13 years-old and for boys from 16 years-old. The “informal marriages” allows spouses to live in the same home and have children, but is only legally registered once both turn 18.  In Jordan the legal minimum age for marriage is 18-years-old for both spouses, though in exceptional circumstances marriages involving 15-year-olds are allowed — it is illegal for anyone under 15 to get married. Hana Ghadban, a volunteer with the Syrian Women Association (SWA), told IRIN that in the Syrian cities of Homs and Dera’a many girls are married at the age of 13 or 14. “We know of so many girls who got married after moving to Jordan. Most of them were engaged in Syria.”

Violence against children in Syria is also a motivator of many parents to seek early marriage for young girls;

“They rape girls who are as young as her in Syria now. If they raped a nine-year-old girl, they can do anything. I will not feel OK if I do not see her married to a decent man who can protect her,” said the father of Hanadi, a pregnant child bride in Jordan aged 14.

In March of this year, the United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, stated in an interview that security forces in Syria are systematically detaining and torturing children with the approval or complicity of President Bashar Assad. “They’ve gone for the children, for whatever purpose, in large numbers, hundreds detained and tortured,” she said. “It’s just horrendous, children shot in the knees, held together with adults, in really inhumane conditions, denied medical treatment for their injuries, either held as hostages, or held as sources of information” (BBC). The statement by Pillay came following a report the previous month which stated that there were at least 400 child deaths this year alone — some as young as 10 being held in solitary confinement. Many families also reported levels of systematic rape against young girls and women both in Syria and refugee camps in bordering countries such as Iraq.

Regardless of the reasons for parents and families to seek early marriage for their children, it is not an escape, but a sentence. A girl who is married young is at a greater risk of abuse, which in extreme instances can result in death.  Girls who marry young consequently give birth young, and therefore have an increased risk for complications or even death in childbirth. Child brides are also more likely to be voiceless in their marriage, regarding most, if not all, major decisions. Child brides are also less likely to compete their education, maintain social circles, In the developing world, it is estimated that one-third of girls are married as children.  Child marriage violate the rights of the child in many ways, but the most concerning violation is a girls right to consent, and this right is continually violated through the life of the marriage for most girls.

It is estimated that 10 million girls a year worldwide are victims of child marriage; therefore, this spike in child marriages by refugees must not be taken lightly.  Syrian refugee communites must be educated on the true effects of child marriage, and education must be made available for girls.   Additionally the fight against gender discrimination must be put on the forefront of the agenda in order to see an end to the cycle of abuse and poverty that fuels child marriages.  States must ensure that individual communities are adequately educated on the long-term effects of child marriage gender discrimination, and see that sustainable solutions are then put in place. Such solutions include, making education a priority and ensuring that girls have equal access to it, seeing that families have alternative ways to pay debts (so that girls are not used as an viable option), and providing health education on HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

 

Author

Cassandra Clifford
Cassandra Clifford

Cassandra Clifford is the Founder and Executive Director of Bridge to Freedom Foundation, which works to enhance and improve the services and opportunities available to survivors of modern slavery. She holds an M.A., International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland, as well as a B.A., Marketing and A.S., Fashion Merchandise/Marketing from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Cassandra has previously worked in both the corporate and charity sector for various industries and causes, including; Child Trafficking, Learning Disabilities, Publishing, Marketing, Public Relations and Fashion. Currently Cassandra is conducting independent research on the use of rape as a weapon of war, as well as America’s Pimp Culture and its Impact on Modern Slavery. In addition to her many purists Cassandra is also working to develop a series of children’s books.

Cassandra currently resides in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where she also writes for the Examiner, as the DC Human Rights Examiner, and serves as an active leadership member of DC Stop Modern Slavery.


Areas of Focus:
Children's Rights; Human Rights; Conflict

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