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04/15/2013

Child marriages on the rise among Syrian refugees

Childmarriages
Young Syrian girls at a refugee camp. (AP/Manu Brabo)

Refugees International is saying that child marriages among Syrian refugees are on the rise. 

One interesting and underreported aspect that is helping drive this phenomenan which the organization raises, is the soaring rent prices in Jordan. 

Rents in Jordan have tripled as demand has increased but decent, available housing is falling and many families are falling into debt trying to keep a roof over their heads. The average debt of refugees in urban areas is $650, equivalent of three months rent, aid agencies report. 

Marcy Hersh of Refugees International told AlertNet some landlords in Jordan were taking advantage of their tenants' misfortune. 

“For example the landlord would say, ‘I know you can’t pay rent this month but we can make a deal where if you give me your daughter in marriage, then you won’t have to pay rent this month'. These sorts of impossible situations are coming up for families,” Hersh said. 

In other cases well-meaning parents desperate to protect their daughters are marrying them off as soon as they can because overcrowded housing increases the risk of sexual violence. Last year there were an estimated 500 underage marriages in Jordan. 

When I was in Amman last month I spoke to a couple of Syrian exiles who were annoyed at the attention early marriage was getting in the West.  They correctly pointed out that many Syrians were marrying their children early even before the war.

"Stop telling us about early marriage, I've had enough of hearing about it," one highly educated Syrian refugee told me. "We have more needs." 

He meant that focusing on this issue was distracting from other urgent needs such as food and accommodation.   It was a fair point.  Early marriages however are also a sign of the strain families are under as they try to survive with scarce help and resources. 

Erica Hall of World Vision, said  that more children would likely be forced into marriage as the humanitarian crisis deteriorated, AlertNet reported.  

“It is linked to levels of poverty and deprivation, so obviously as the situation gets more and more dire for refugees in Lebanon and Jordan I think there is a huge concern that it’s going to increase.”

Hersh also added that girls and women who had been raped during the civil war were being forced into marriage to save family honour. 

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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