Editor’s note: The Covid-19 pandemic has shut down many girls’ already limited access to education, especially if they are internally displaced or refugees. In a new “Girls at Risk” series, Al-Fanar Media is focusing on factors that keep girls out of school. Typically, Al-Fanar Media focuses on Arab higher education, but we believe it is also important sometimes to turn our attention to the barriers that prevent the disadvantaged from ever reaching universities. All of the articles in the Girls at Risk series can be found here.
Millions of young female refugees have been forced to leave school in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region due to coronavirus closures.
Now, many aid officials, researchers and advocates worry that when schools reopen for in-person instruction, many of these girls will not return. The pandemic is making the poor poorer, which in turn is creating a spike in child marriages, as families marry off their daughters to get a bride payment and rid themselves of a mouth to feed.
Once girls marry and leave school, they rarely come back.
“I don’t know that I’ve met any Syrian refugee girls who have married and managed to continue their education,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate director of the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, who oversaw the recent report “I Want to Continue to Study: Barriers to Secondary Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Jordan.”
“There’s probably a few out there but it seems rare,” Van Esveld said. “Once you marry, you are generally out of school.”
A Floor Collapsing
Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey together host almost eight million refugees, the majority from Syria but also Iraqis, Palestinians, Yemenis, Somalis and Sudanese. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit this spring, these countries—which are among the world’s top 10 refugee-hosting nations—have seen severe economic contractions, including spiraling inflation and unemployment. Lebanon is on the verge of economic collapse.
As a result, these countries’ refugee populations—already excluded from the formal labor market in Jordan and Lebanon—have become especially vulnerable to the pandemic’s shocks, seeing their incomes drop or disappear. International aid has steadily declined, as donor fatigue has set in and new crises elsewhere have drawn aid to places such as Bangladesh. Most refugees in the Levant are excluded from any social safety nets that exist. (See a related article, “As Refugees’ Plight Worsens, School Becomes a Luxury.”)
Even before the pandemic hit earlier this year, 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan were living in poverty, Human Rights Watch wrote. A Rapid Needs Assessment of “vulnerable populations,” including refugee camps, in Jordan in March by the charity CARE found that 90 percent reported they could not pay for their basic needs. (See a related article, “Jordan’s Tight Covid-19 Lockdown Also Squeezes Vulnerable Populations.”)