“We could not protect her, so we had to marry her”: Child marriage and Syrian refugees

Um Ali’s story was kindly shared by our member Save the Children. It is an excerpt from State of the World’s Mothers 2014: Saving Mothers and Children in Humanitarian Crises.

“My daughter is 16 and she loved school.  She was top of her class and wanted to become an architect. But we were too worried for her. They were attacking women. We could not protect her, so we had to marry her.

“She is innocent and very pretty. I know that men are hurting women – old women, single women, everyone. She did not want to get married, she wanted to study. This is happening a lot in Syria, many women I know are marrying their daughters – even younger than 16 – to protect them.”

— Um Ali, Lebanon
(State of the World’s Mothers 2014 – Save the Children)

Girls are vulnerable to child marriage in conflict

During conflict and crisis, adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to early marriage. In Lebanon and Jordan, an increasing number of Syrian refugee girls are forced into premature marriages. According to a 2014 report by UNICEF, 1 in every 5 registered marriages of Syrian refugee women includes a girl under the age of 18.

In its latest State of the Worlds’ Mothers report, Save the Children finds that Syrian refugee girls “are being forced into marriage – often with much older men – under the pretext of protecting their virtue and rescuing them from the harsh life of refugee camps.”

In conflict or displacement, some parents believe that marriage will protect their daughters from physical or sexual assault, or that marriage will ensure girls’ economic security and lessen the family’s expenses.

While marriage may provide these families with a sense of security, child marriage is not a safe alternative for girls. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to report being beaten by their husbands and forced to have sex than girls who marry later.

Preventing child marriage in conflict

According to Save the Children, “child marriage is not currently included in guidelines to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in emergencies, and [strategies to prevent child marriage] are not yet fully integrated into the humanitarian response plans of most aid groups.”

Investing in girls’ education and women’s economic and income-generating activities in crisis-affected contexts would go a long way towards ensuring girls’ protection from child marriage.

About State of the World’s Mothers 2014

In State of the World’s Mothers 2014, Save the Children examines the impact of humanitarian crises on the health of mothers, newborns and children in countries ranked as the most difficult places to be a mother.

The report makes a series of recommendations to ensure that mothers and children in crisis-affected contexts have the best chance to lead healthy lives, including measures to protect girls from early marriage.

Read the report here or click below to download:

Save Children - SOWM 2014