MAFRAQ — “I would rather stay in the camp for the rest of my life than get married now,” Asma, a 15-year-old Syrian refugee, told The Jordan Times.
“I want to finish my education and become a nurse or a teacher.”
Asma said her father and uncles had arranged for her to marry a divorced Jordanian, 21 years her senior, so that their family could move out of the Zaatari Refugee Camp near Mafraq.
Despite her protestations, she said, her wedding is scheduled for Friday.
UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Emergency Programme Coordinator Shible Sahbani on Wednesday said that young girls like Asma who are forced into marriage suffer consequences to their physical and psychological health, their education and the quality of life of their children.
Speaking to the press at the camp, Sahbani said that child marriage, a human rights violation, is on the rise in some developing countries, even where the legal age of marriage is 18 years and above.
Early pregnancy, he explained, disrupts the normal growth of a girl’s body, and several studies have found that girls who get married before 18 are often victims of domestic violence.
Sahbani was speaking to the press after giving a lecture to educate women at the camp on the consequences of early marriage.
The lecture was organised to mark International Day of the Girl Child that is being celebrated for the first time on October 11 under the theme "Ending Child Marriage", which was chosen because child marriage is a phenomenon that violates millions of girls' rights, disrupts their education, jeopardises their health, and denies them their childhood, limiting their opportunities and impacting all aspects of a girl's life, according to the UN.
Sahbani noted that women of reproductive age (15-49 years) make up about 25 per cent of most refugee populations, and they especially need to be educated on family planning and the risks of early marriage.
In Arab countries, he added, not only should women be educated on these risks, but men too, because the majority of them make decisions about marriage on behalf of their daughters or sisters.
If current trends continue, the number of marriages involving underage girls will increase dramatically over the next 10 years, according to “Marrying too Young: End Child Marriage”, a report released by the UNFPA on Wednesday.
The report also indicated that, despite laws prohibiting it, the rate of child marriage has remained mostly constant in developing countries over the past decade.
“No social, cultural or religious rationale for child marriage can possibly justify the damage these marriages do to young girls and their potential,” UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said in a statement sent to The Jordan Times.
“A girl should have the right to choose whom she marries and when,” she added.
“Since many parents and communities also want the very best for their daughters, we must work together to end child marriage.”
In 2010, 158 countries reported that 18 years was the minimum legal age for marriage for women without parental consent or approval by a pertinent authority, the UNFPA statement said.
Still, in the same year, one in three girls, or 67 million, were married before their 18th birthday in developing countries (excluding China). Half of these child marriages took place in Asia, with another one-fifth in sub-Saharan Africa, but the practice is also widespread in some communities in Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
“Marrying too Young” finds that girls who are poor, have little or no education and live in rural areas are most likely to enter child marriages.
Girls living in rural areas of the developing world are twice as likely to enter marriage before 18 as their urban counterparts, and girls with no education are over three times more likely to do so than those with secondary or higher education.
Vulnerability to child marriage substantially increases during humanitarian crises.
In Jordan, according to latest statistics issued in 2009, approximately 6.8 per cent of married women were under the age of 18.