Child marriage and the Syrian conflict: 7 things you need to know

Photo credit: European Commission / ECHO

We updated this blog and republished it to mark Refugee Week 2017. It was originally posted ahead of the Supporting Syria and the Region conference in February 2016.

Millions of people have had their lives torn apart by the devastating civil war in Syria since it began in 2011. Alarmingly, the conflict has made Syrian girls more vulnerable to child marriage. Here is what you need to know.

1) A growing number of Syrian refugee girls are being married because of the conflict.

Child marriage is a growing problem for Syrian girls in refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. In Jordan, for instance, figures show an increase over time. In 2011, 12% of registered marriages involved a girl under the age of 18. This figure rose to 18% in 2012, 25% in 2013 and 32% in early 2014. [1]

In Lebanon today, 41 % of young displaced Syrian women were married before 18. [2] Given that many marriages are unregistered, these figures may, in fact, be much higher.

Girls who were displaced inside Syria are likely facing similar problems. However, there is currently limited data about the situation in the country. [3]

2) Child marriage happened in Syria before the conflict.

Child marriage is not new to Syria. Before the conflict, 13% of Syrian women aged 20 to 25 were married before 18.[ 4] Conflict and disasters exacerbate the poverty, gender inequality and lack of education that cause child marriage to happen in the first place. All the more reason to address child marriage before a crisis hits.

3) For Syrian families, marrying their daughters is a desperate response to extreme circumstances.

Life is difficult for displaced families. Parents struggle to provide for their children and fear for their safety – particularly of sexual violence against girls. As a result, some come to the conclusion that marriage could protect their daughters from harm while providing them with a level of financial stability.

In many communities, marriage is also a way to “protect” a girl’s virginity and “honour” and, by extension, a family’s reputation. [5] Gender inequality clearly comes into play as these concerns rarely apply to boys and young men.

According to Save the Children, some girls are also married off to facilitate the entry of Syrian men into Jordan, a process easier for married men. Girls who marry Jordanian husbands may also be able to get sponsorship allowing them and the girls’ family to move out of the camp. [6]

4) Child marriage has a devastating impact on Syrian refugee girls.

The impact of child marriage on girls is widely documented. Married Syrian refugee girls face similar consequences as other child brides: complications during pregnancy and childbirth, violence, limited education and economic opportunities, as well as little freedom and chance to socialise with children their own age.

To make matters worse, many of these marriages are short-term and unregistered, leaving girls with little protection for themselves or their children. Divorced girls in refugee camps are stigmatised in their community, which has harmful consequences on their mental health.

5) The conflict is keeping girls out of school, leaving them at a higher risk of child marriage.                                                                     

The Syrian conflict has left almost 2 million children and adolescents out of school, while an additional 1.3 million are at risk of dropping out. [7] This limits their opportunities and, for girls, increases their risk of being married. [8]

Education is a key way of protecting girls from child marriage. Being in school builds a girls’ knowledge and skills so she is better able to delay marriage and can support the idea that girls are still children and are not ready to be married.

6) Child and forced marriage is used as a weapon of war.

Alarmingly, a number of reports show that armed groups inside Syria and neighbouring Iraq use child and forced marriage as well as sexual violence as weapons of war to panic, intimidate and displace populations. [9]

Sexual violence is also rife within the Syrian conflict and some families may see child marriage as a form of protection for girls at risk. In reality, we know that girls often face renewed violence within child marriages.

7) Child marriage is not addressed well enough in humanitarian contexts.

A number of organisations are addressing child marriage in Syria and neighbouring refugee communities. But we need a broader humanitarian response.

Child marriage isn’t a standalone issue, therefore the response shouldn’t be isolated. Health, education, child protection, gender-based violence – the entire humanitarian community needs to address the issue together. It’s worth remembering that child marriage happened in Syria before the conflict. Preventing child marriage in times of crises means making sure it does not happen in times of stability.

And while we focus on child marriage and the Syrian refugee crisis, we cannot forget about the rest of the world. Conflict and displacement are affecting girls’ lives in Yemen, Myanmar or the Central African Republic, where child marriage is a growing concern. We can’t leave these girls behind.

For more information, read our brief: Child marriage in humanitarian crises.

https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/reports-and-publications/child-marriage-in-humanitarian-crises/

Sources

  1. UNICEF, A Study on Early Marriage in Jordan, 2014
  2. Lebanon crisis response plan. Please note that these look at different samples.
  3. Save the Children, Too Young To Wed, The growing problem of child marriage among Syrian girls in Jordan, 2014.
  4. UNICEF, State of the World’s Children: Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity, 2011 as cited in Care, To Protect Her Honour: Child Marriage in Emergencies – The Fatal Confusion Between Protecting Girls and Sexual Violence, 2015
  5. Save the Children, Too Young To Wed: The growing problem of child marriage among Syrian girls in Jordan, 2014; CARE UK, To Protect Her Honour: child marriage in emergencies, the fatal confusion between protecting girls and sexual violence, 2015. https://europa.eu/eyd2015/en/unfpa/stories/child-marriage-takes-toll-syrian-girls; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28250471
  6. Save the Children, Too Young To Wed: The growing problem of child marriage among Syrian girls in Jordan, 2014
  7. Cit. Humanitarian Needs Overview, Syrian Arab Republic, 2017.
  8. Save the Children, The Cost of War: Calculating the Impact of the Collapse of Syria’s Education System on Syria’s Future, 2015
  9. Care, To Protect Her Honour: Child Marriage in Emergencies – The Fatal Confusion Between Protecting Girls and Sexual Violence, 2015 along with online reports such as: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/24-of-syrian-refugee-girls-in-lebanon-forced-to-marry-before-18-un_us_561eb44be4b0c5a1ce61c285; https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/10/11/iraq-forced-marriage-conversion-yezidis