An hour and a half drive from Beirut, 20 men sit in a local family center in West Bekaa, Lebanon. All of them are refugees from Syria or Palestine, two places where early marriage is common.
One man starts, “I have 10 daughters under 18, and I will marry every single one of them. Without it, my family wouldn’t survive.” An intense debate erupts, the men shouting over each other until one stands out: “And when you marry off your daughters, do you ask their permission first?”
The practice of forcing girls into marriage is a complicated issue, particularly because most of these fathers believe it is a means to protecting their daughters from poverty or sexual exploitation. For a family that doesn’t have enough money to raise their daughter, marrying her off is their way of coping.
Adnan Ghazi is the man leading today’s discussion. A refugee from Syria, he understands the cultural dynamics of early marriage and as one of the facilitators of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) program, he is trying to convince his peers of its consequences. “Marry your child at 14 years old and she loses her education. You think you’re solving your economic burden, but your children are suffering,” he explains.
Ghazi can speak to this topic because he’s lived it. News Deeply explains:
Ghazi knows firsthand the harm that marrying young can do. After graduating from university and going through a string of girlfriends, he settled down with Adeline*, a woman chosen for him by his mother. He was 27; she was just 14.
The beginning of their marriage was hard; Adeline dropped out of school to care for their children, which widened the already substantial gap in the pair’s perspective and opinions.
Still, changing minds is an uphill battle. “I use my own experience and tell other men, ‘Learn from me, it’s not a good thing,’” says Ghassan Idriss, another peer facilitator. “I try to speak directly to their hearts, but often they tell me to leave them alone. They think I’m intervening in subjects that men should have nothing to do with.”