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Early marriage and child labour

Consequences of the Syrian crisis

To flee the war, Syrian families cross the border into Lebanon where they gather in makeshift shelters.
Due to lack of resources, fathers choose to marry off their daughters. Their hope is that the future husbands will take care of their daughters and ensure their future. However the reality is different. In fact, these marriages wipe away simultaneously the childhood and the dreams of thousands of adolescents.
We were able to interview a few very young girls who were married and became mothers at age 12 or 13. They agreed to speak with us about how they live in this situation. Xavier Colin, journalist and Ambassador of Terre des hommes (Tdh), met them in southern Lebanon. We also met children forced to work to support their families. A difficult situation for the entire community.


“The Syrian crisis is robbing the childhood from thousands of refugee boys and girls in Lebanon.” 

Xavier Colin


The precarious situation in which Syrian refugee families in Lebanon live is forcing fathers to marry off their young daughters at even younger and younger ages to lighten their burden. Parents want to believe that they will live in better conditions with their husbands. However, once married, their daughters give up all hope of going to school, finding decent work, and breaking out of poverty.
The social, psychological and emotional consequences of early marriage on adolescent girls are dramatic. These young girls are neither physically nor emotionally ready to become mothers. Pregnancies at an early age have important consequences for the girls and their babies .


“These girls are exposed to enormous risks with each delivery and have no idea how to take care of a baby. These marriages have disastrous consequences for their future lives and their health.”

Sophie Coehlo, Tdh Program Coordinator in Lebanon

One out of three Syrian girls is married before the age of 19. This trend is increasing.

In nearly 20% of cases, the men are 10 years older than the girls they marry.

In 2017, Tdh supported 1,380 young girls who are married or about to be married.


“A child is too young to have another child.”

Remas, 12 years old, participates in Tdh’s prevention activities


Terre des hommes raises awareness among communities about the need to protect their own daughters. The organization supports adolescent girls who are married or in the process of being married. Groups of girls come together to meet with social workers or psychologists, where they can freely express their concerns, what they want for the future and can speak openly on what they think about their marriage. Here they feel understood and listened. The support that they receive is adapted to each special situation. Through recreational activities, they become aware of their rights and learn about the risks that early marriage carries in regards to their health and their future.

Tdh works hand in hand with religious leaders. These influential people play a leading role in communities. Encouraged by Tdh, Sheikhs and religious judges today take into account the interests of children when making their decisions. They remind parents that their children have rights and that they must respect them. 


“We must consider the young bride as a victim who has rights.”  

Judge Mohammad Abou Zaid seizes every opportunity to convince parents to postpone their decision and not marry off their young daughters. This speech is possible thanks to an unprecedented collaboration between Sheikhs and the juvenile justice specialists of Tdh.  

Xavier Colin attests to the reality of early marriage in this exclusive report from the cities of Tyre and Saïda. 


In Lebanon, Syrian refugee children occupy more streets and farms than school benches. In Saïda and Tyre, 120 children work for a few dollars per day. We went to meet these minors who are being exploited by adults. These children, who fled the war, are being forced to work by poor families.
70-80% of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon work to support their families.

“I work to help my family. This way I can buy clothes and help my brothers, sisters, and the entire family.”

Malek, 14 years old, Syrian refugee


“As Syrian refugees, we are strongly discriminated against. I do not have the right to work in Lebanon. At school, my sons are beaten up by other students. I worry they will be exploited in the streets, but we are so poor and we have no other choice but to send them there.”

Ahmed, father of six children

The fight against exploitation

Tdh’s Child Protection specialists work with the police and intervene alongside the Ministry of Social Affairs. The organization describes what these Syrian children are experiencing and explains why they are entitled to respect and consideration. Tdh helps them get out of the farms, integrate into the Lebanese school system and mediate between parents and local authorities. 


“People complain about being harassed by these street vendors. This is a real problem for us. We must find the right balance between understanding and repression. We sometimes bring these children back to their homes at midnight and one hour later discover they have returned to the same roundabout! The place for these children is not in the street, but in school.”

Mohamad Bawwab, Police officer in Tyre

Living one’s childhood

The children of Tyre and Saïda spend their days washing car windows or weeding tomato plants, instead of playing hide-and-seek, singing, drawing, and having fun with friends like any other child. With its partners, Tdh organizes recreational activities near the children’s work places several times a week. For an hour or two, they leave their daily lives aside and renew their life as children. This opportunity gives special support to those who need it, to prevent risky situations, and to make children aware of their own rights. 

How to help? 

In southern Lebanon, children get married, have babies, and work. Nothing prepares them to live the life of an adult. Help us return their stolen childhoods to these young Syrian refugees. 

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Photo credit: © Diego Ibarra