|Maha* is a 13-year-old Syrian refugee. She was forced to marry her 23-year-old husband when she was 12 due to financial difficulties and fear of sexual assault. She is now one month pregnant. Due to her young age, her pregnancy is very weak. She hasn't been in school since she was 10 years old. Photo by Rosie Thompson/Save the Children.
Wendy Christian 203.465.8010 (M)
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (July 16, 2014) — Early and forced marriage among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan has doubled since the onset of war, Save the Children said today.
Data collected by UNICEF shows a quarter of all Syrian refugee marriages registered in Jordan now involve a girl under the age of 18. 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."
Child marriage did exist in pre-conflict Syria — at 13 percent 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 percent) are being forced to marry men at least 10 years older than they are.
"Child marriage is devastating for those girls concerned," said Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles. "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."
Save the Children's new report, "Too Young to Wed: The Growing Problem of Child Marriage Among Syrian Girls in Jordan," 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 Miles. "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 programs with children, adolescents and parents in Jordan, with a focus on preventing child marriage.
*name has been changed to protect identity
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