Refugee Girls Often Pushed to Marry

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Child SlaveryForced Marriage

Refugee girls are often pushed into marriage.

Dalia was a 16-year-old living in Lebanon in a refugee camp. She agreed to marry a man she hardly knew, because she wanted to make it easier for her family–refugees from Homs, Syria.

She is now 18 and has a young daughter.  She is sorry about her decision.  Many refugee girls are pushed into marriage.  She says, “I am one of five sisters and my father is a labourer. He couldn’t afford to provide for us all, so when my husband’s family came to propose, I had to accept because I felt it was better for my family.” Her husband is nearly 10 years older.

Dalia had to leave school.  “I was in the 11th grade, expecting to go to university in two years. If it was to happen again, I wouldn’t get married at 16. I won’t let this happen to my daughter.”

Child marriage is far from unusual, especially among refugee girls.

According to new research from Save the Children, one girl under 15 is married every seven seconds. But it’s a problem felt more acutely by refugees: 6% of Syrian girls in Lebanon aged 12–17 are married, according to UNHCR data.

Child marriage among Syrians, especially refugee girls,  is not new, but the five-year war has accelerated the practice. “Our members working in the region tell us that child marriage is becoming an ever-growing problem, particularly among girls in refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt,” says Lakshmi Sundaram, executive director at the charity Girls not Brides.

“For most families, marrying off daughters is a last resort and a desperate response to extreme circumstances,” Sundaram adds. “Faced with an increasingly unstable and impoverished situation, many parents believe that marriage is the only way they can ensure that their daughters are safe. However, they do not necessarily realise the violence that girls face within the context of marriage.”

Save the Children provides awareness-raising in an effort to reach Syrian girls who have married young or who are at risk of being pushed into it.

Sandy Maroun for Lebanon’s Save the Children, says:  “The sessions tackle the harmful impact of early marriage on girls, be that physical, psychological or social. Children should be allowed to be children, not wives.”

The girl’s name in this piece has been changed.

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