International Day of the Girl on October 11th - child marriage persists

Journée des filles le 11 octobre - le mariage d’enfant perdure

A qualitative study conducted by the child relief organisation Terre des hommes among Syrian refugee communities in Lebanon and Jordan explains the causal link between refugee status, the precarious situation of families and child marriage. 

A quarter of the girls interviewed face a high risk of marriage. In Syrian refugee communities, the average age for a girl to receive her first proposal is 14.5. Almost all the girls assessed received at least one proposal before they turned 16, and 24% are at high risk of child marriage. Girls in education were less likely to receive proposals. 

Refugee status and the precarious situation of Syrian refugee families are factors that encourage child marriage. In this context, providing for their out-of-school daughters and defining their status at home and in the community is difficult. Lack of education and opportunity has changed the way families, including girls, perceive marriage. Some conditions that would have previously been unacceptable are now being accepted. Looking at their insecurity, marriage is seen as an admissible alternative; it gives parents the illusion of securing their daughters' precarious future and provides a sense of normality and control to families who are still coping with the psychological effects of the conflict and displacement. 

Although families do not consider child marriage to be harmful, the consequences can be dramatic. None of the girls interviewed had been prepared for it – still in their teenage years, they are neither psychologically nor sexually ready to assume the role of a housewife, mother and wife. “I was still very young. I didn't know everything about marriage. Now, when I come home from work, I have responsibilities: cooking, washing dishes and laundry. I have a man who has expectations of me," says a 16-year-old Syrian girl who has been married for two years and is pregnant with her second child. Some of the participants described the shock and distress caused by their first sexual intercourse, described as marital rape. They also experienced physical, verbal, and emotional abuse.

“Facing her new responsibilities, a young girl will not be able to engage in normal activities conducive to a child's development and will be socially isolated. She will not have had the time to develop the necessary background to ensure her life as a woman and a mother. This can be a very and long-lasting traumatic experience. International conventions clearly consider child marriage as a child protection concern and a form of sexual and gender-based violence,” explains Marta Gil Gonzalez, based in Jordan and regional coordinator of the Access to Justice for Children programme at Terre des hommes.

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