"Too Young to Wed"

Sunday 20 July 2014

Early and forced marriage among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan has doubled since the onset of war, claims Save the Children today in a new report published July 17th, 2014.

Data collected by UNICEF shows a quarter of all Syrian refugee marriages registered in Jordan now involve a girl under the age of 18. In the new report ‘Too Young to Wed’, Save the Children said that extreme poverty and increasing fears of sexual violence among Syrian refugee communities mean that some parents feel they have no choice but to marry their daughters to keep them ‘protected’. The report comes ahead of the Girl Summit 2014, hosted in the UK by International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, on 22 July. The summit will set out to tackle Female Genital Mutilation and Child Early and Forced Marriage in the UK and overseas.

Child marriage did exist in pre-conflict Syria at 13% of all marriages but the latest figures show that this figure has doubled for those girls that have fled to Jordan – and that half (48%) are being forced to marry men at least ten years older than they are.

“Child marriage is devastating for those girls concerned,” said Saba Al Mobaslat, Country Director of Save the Children in Jordan, “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.”

The report spells out a number of reasons why families are opting for early marriage for their daughters. As refugees, Syrian families are reliant on dwindling resources and lacking economic opportunities. 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 female children and ease family resources.

Children who drop out of school are more likely to marry and conversely, children who get married are more likely to drop out of education, with girls expected to leave school in order to care for their husband and home, or to begin childbearing and childcare.

However, Too Young to Wed also points to the “determined resistance” of some refugee families, noting cases of mothers’ resolute rejection of child marriage. Among the reasons mothers gave were that their daughters were too young and that they wanted their daughters to complete their education.

"These girls, who by fleeing the war in Syria have already been subjected to more than any child should, are at extreme risk of mental health issues resulting from social isolation, stress and abuse,” said Saba Al Mobaslat. "But the repercussions of forced marriage can be physical as well as mental – and even deadly. The consequences for girls' health of engaging in sexual activity while their bodies are still developing are devastating: girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than fully-grown women."

Save the Children, along with partners, runs community awareness raising programmes with children, adolescents and parents in Jordan with a focus on preventing child marriage.