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The trauma of Syria's married children

Three years into conflict, statistics show that among Syrian refugee communities in Jordan child marriages have doubled.

Last updated: 23 Jul 2014 14:43
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A quarter of all Syrian refugee marriages registered in the country of Jordan involve a girl under the age of 18. [Rosie Thompson/Save the Children ]

The war in Syria has killed more than 10,000 children. More than one million have fled the country to escape the violence, while millions more are displaced inside the country.

Less publicized is the impact of the crisis, particularly regarding the increase in numbers of girls who have been forced to marry.

Three years into the conflict, official statistics show that among Syrian refugee communities in Jordan the number of child marriages has soared, and in some cases, doubled.

Data collected by UNICEF shows a quarter of all Syrian refugee marriages registered in Jordan now involve a girl under the age of 18.

The proportion of child marriages among the Syrian refugee community in Jordan where the bride was under the age of 18 rose from 12 percent in 2011 to 25 percent in 2013. The number of Syrian boys registered as married are far lower showing that girls are being married off to older males.

[Rosie Thompson/Save the ChildrenSave the Children]

Maha is a 13-year-old Syrian refugee. At the age of 12 she was forced to marry her 23-year-old husband due to financial difficulties and fear of sexual assault. She is now one month pregnant. Due to her young age, her pregnancy is very weak. She hasn’t been in school since she was 10 years old.

"First of all, I didn't want to get married because I am too young, but my parents forced me to. Second of all, we heard about a lot of rape and kidnapping cases in Jordan. But no, not at all. I didn't want to get married. I am still young, and I wanted to finish my studies." says Maha.

 [Rosie Thompson/Save the Children]











"Child marriage is devastating for those girls concerned," said Save the Children's Country Director in Jordan, Saba Al Mobaslat.

"Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later and they have much more limited access to sexual and reproductive health, putting their young bodies at extreme risk if and when they become pregnant."

There are numerous reasons as to why families have been opting for child marriage for their daughters. As refugees, Syrian families are reliant on dwindling resources and lack economic opportunity. They also find themselves needing to protect their daughters from the threat of sexual violence. 

[Rosie Thompson/Save the Children ]











In many of the cases the extreme poverty and increasing fears of sexual violence among Syrian refugee communities mean that some parents feel they have no choice but to marry their daughters to keep them ‘protected’.

Trends are showing that refugee Syrian girls in Jordan are marrying older men, with 48 percent of Syrian child brides in 2012 marrying men ten or more years older than them. 

The greater the age difference the more likely girls are to be disempowered and at the risk of violence, abuse or exploitation. 

 [Rosie Thompson/Save the Children]





Nadia and her sister Sama fled from their home in Damascus, and were married when they were 15 and 17 years old, in Amman where they currently live.

“I got married when I was 15 years old,” says Nadia, 16, “I was forced to marry because my family and I – ten people – were sharing a very small house with only two rooms… I was aspiring to become a doctor. I left school and didn’t finish my 11th year and came to Jordan. Everything got destroyed.”   

The sisters came with their family and their husbands family (their relatives) and due to cultural norms and financial constraints, the girls were married to their male cousins. Sama recently gave birth to her first child Ahmed.

"These girls, who by fleeing the war in Syria have already been subjected to more than any child should, are at extreme risk of mental health issues resulting from social isolation, stress and abuse," said Saba Al Mobaslat.

"Since I got married I don't feel anything," says Reem, 15, "I do feel sad when I see other girls from my neighbourhood going to school. Whenever I see a woman who has become a doctor or a lawyer or has finished her education I get upset."

[Rosie Thompson/Save the Children ]

 

 *Names have been changed to protect children and relatives.

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