Protecting Syrian refugee girls from child marriage
Too many girls are married before the age of 18. Most of the time, they are forced into an alliance that they have not chosen. Dropping out of school or violence at home are some of the challenges and negative consequences they face. Terre des hommes works in Jordan and Lebanon to protect young refugee girls from child marriage and support those already married or divorced.
To better tackle the issue of early marriage among refugee girls, we have published, together with Dr Aisha Hutchinson from the University of Bedfordshire, a three-year research focusing on girls who are married before 18. The research seeks to better understand the process and experience these girls go through while living in refugee communities. To do so, interviews and focus groups were run with girls, boys, parents and religious leaders in both Jordan and Lebanon that address the issues of child marriage and explore the protective factors that could reduce the risks girls face in such situations.
Marta Gil, our Access to Justice Regional Coordinator in MENA explains: “The experiences and attitudes described in the research give depth to the current data available and help to hear the voice of the Syrian refugee community more than nine years after the war has forced them to flee. The study examines complex social and family processes, factors and actors that play a crucial role in child marriage, aiming at designing specific and effective programme and policy actions.” By understanding the underpinning social factors, adapting our response and working with relevant local partners, we can make a positive impact on the future of these girls.
Why do parents marry their daughters at an early age?
The research shows that multiple factors push parents to marry their daughters at a young age, including poverty, gender inequality and a lack of education. The Syrian crisis has led to a significant increase in the number of child marriages. Even though already an estimated 18% of girls were married under the age of 18 in Syria before the conflict, most of the research participants described the challenges of displacement and being a refugee as contributing factors to the rise in child marriage. Marrying their daughters is used as a coping mechanism by families to alleviate financial burdens and to enhance the social protection of their girls, even though many families would prefer not to do it, they are forced to as a survival mean. In Jordan, we found that the average age at which Syrian refugee girls receive their first proposal was 14.5 years. Almost all girls had received at least one proposal by the age of 16.
Child marriage equals stolen childhood
Girls that get married too early usually drop out of school.
Many young, married couples live in cramped conditions together with the husband’s family. Violence at home, early and risky pregnancy, and depression are among the problems girls regularly face. On top of this, additional insecurity emerges in regards to newborns care.
What do we do to support these young girls?
To address these dramatic issues and prevent early marriage, we work together with sheiks – religious leaders with an influential position in the communities – who have committed to spreading child protection messages. They discuss topics such as violence against children and child marriage with their congregations and have already addressed more than 3000 people. We also work with them to improve justice processes such as conciliation or mediation, both at community and within personal status courts, when tackling child marriage’s decisions.
We empower girls by informing them about their rights and the use of contraception, we reinforce their life skills and support networks against child marriage. Additionally, we support families to set up income-generating activities to prevent them from the need of marrying their daughters for economic reasons.
Surviving early marriage and war: The 18 year old girl introduces herself as an early marriage “survivor”. She has already referred many cases of early-married girls to Tdh in Lebanon.
Lely, early married girl that had to flee SyriaRead more...