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03/22/2013

Between a rock and a hard place: the choices Syrian refugees make

Toronto Star readers have been reacting to our front page story on our website and on Facebook today about how Syrian refugees are forced to sell their daughters into marriage because of the civil war. Many of the comments are unfortunately resorting to bashing Islam and Arabs, which misses the point, as I have never met any parent anywhere in the Muslim world who insists on forcing their child into marriage for religious reasons. 

But this comment from misueno is receiving the most likes on our website: 

“This is so sad. Sad on so many levels. I am so incredibly grateful to have been born a Canadian and live in Canada being that I am a woman. I have traveled extensively in my life and have been to many countries where women are simply 2nd and 3rd class citizens. Less than dogs in some cases. Here I have every freedom afforded to me by a first world country. I think many forget how easy it is to be pious on our preverbal high horse while living in a country that provides so much. Being humble is something that north americans are not very good at.”

It was a privilege to meet Um Majed and the other women in Amman who bravely shared their stories knowing they would be vilified for their role in marrying off young girls and just as important in this polarized conflict, criticizing the Free Syrian Army. It is difficult, as someone from the rich, developed world to judge women who make choices in circumstances most of us could not contemplate. This is in no way to suggest that forced and child marriages are OK. They are not. What these women told me was that the war has reduced their lives in such dramatic, horrific ways that they are simply surviving. 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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