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Child marriages increase ‘alarmingly’ among Syrians in refuge — report

By Khetam Malkawi - Jul 16,2014 - Last updated at Jul 16,2014

AMMAN — Although child marriage was practised in Syria before the crisis, its rate has increased alarmingly in refuge, according to reports launched on Wednesday.

In a report titled “TOO YOUNG TO WED: The growing problem of child marriage among Syrian girls in Jordan”, Save the Children interviewed victims of this phenomenon to examine the reasons behind the rise in early marriages. 

One of the interviewees, identified as Maha, is 13 years old and married to a man 10 years older than her.

“I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to finish my studies and become a doctor. But my parents forced me to marry. My father was worried about sexual harassment here,” Maha was quoted as saying.

“I’m pregnant now. [The foetus] is very weak because I’m so young and my body isn’t ready.”

As refugees, Syrian families are reliant on dwindling resources and lack economic opportunities, the report said. At the same time, they are all too aware of the need to protect their daughters from the threat of sexual violence. 

Given these pressures, some families consider child marriage to be the best way to protect their daughters  and ease pressures on family resources.

The report was released ahead of the Girl Summit 2014, which will be hosted in the UK by International Development Secretary Justine Greening next Tuesday. 

The summit is scheduled to tackle female genital mutilation, and early and forced marriage.

According to the report, a copy of which was sent to The Jordan Times, child marriage constituted 13 per cent of all marriages in pre-conflict Syria, but the figure has doubled for those girls that have fled to Jordan, with 48 per cent of them marrying men at least 10 years older.

“Child marriage is devastating for those girls concerned,” Saba Al Mobaslat, Jordan country director of Save the Children said, in a statement sent to The Jordan Times.

“Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later, and they have much more limited access to sexual and reproductive health, putting their young bodies at extreme risk if and when they become pregnant,” she added.

Meanwhile the report added that in Jordan, the proportion of registered marriages among the Syrian refugee community where the bride was under 18 rose from 12 per cent in 2011 (roughly the same as the figure in pre-war Syria) to 18 per cent in 2012, and was as high as 25 per cent by 2013.

Jordan’s legal system sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, but Sharia court judges may authorise marriage for children aged between 15 and 17 under certain conditions. 

With 13.6 per cent of marriages in Jordan involving children, the report called for strengthening the procedural safeguards to ensure that the law is systematically applied to Jordanians and Syrians, since the legal conditions allowing for early marriage are relatively restrictive.

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