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.
Thousands of Syrian refugee child brides across Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere are finding that their family’s impoverishment is leading to weddings instead of graduations.
And while there are a handful of reasons for early nuptials, one key driver for refugees is economic hardship.
“I thought I would move to a better life … but that was not what happened,” says Marwa Al Adelbi from her home in the Burj Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon, referring to her marriage at age 13. “My previous life was better.” (See a related article, “Missing Students: The Stories of 3 Child Brides.)
Researchers and case workers say that some parents will marry off their girls to ensure they are taken care of—or even provide economic advancement—because the families are unable to provide. Many parents don’t want to, recognizing that marrying too early can cut short education and have other adverse effects. Even Syrian boys and girls as young as 12 realize that, according to a report released this year by World Vision. The report interviewed 600 Syrians, including children, and is called “Stolen Future: War and Child Marriage in Northwest Syria.”
Devon Cone, senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International, recalls a specific case during a resettlement interview in Lebanon a few years ago. The interview involved a family who ran out of money and married off their daughter at 15. The father “told me that he didn’t want to do it,” she said. “He cried explaining it to me.”
Some families see girls as a burden, since they will eventually leave the household and devote their attention to their husband’s family.
“For the Syrian families in the (refugee) camps, girls are not a priority,” said Nawal Mdallaly, founder of Sawa Association for Development, an education and development nongovernmental organization that works with women and children, including refugees, in the Bekaa region of Lebanon. “For example, families prefer that boys continue their (remote) studies on a cell phone—not the girls … if they want to buy something (for the children), they buy first for the boys and then for the girls. And so, it’s not a problem if the girls get married at 12 because this will help the family: They eliminate a member of the family—they don’t have to pay for her anymore. They think, ‘Let her be married so the husband can pay for her.'”