Combating child marriage in Azraq Refugee Camp

Child Marriage: a neglected tragedy

Written by George Mghames, Communications Specialist at World Vision Syria Response, Jordan

What are the first thoughts that come to your mind whenever you think of war? Destruction, death, displacement? They are all correct, but how many times did you think of the indirect consequences of conflict, such as child marriage? Child marriage occurred in Syria before the crisis–13 percent of girls under 18 were married in 2011. But now, 10 years into the conflict, child marriage has increased alarmingly. Almost all the girls and boys World Vision talked to last summer knew someone who had been forced into early marriage or they, themselves, were married as children[1].

Child marriage is a serious threat to the lives and future of young girls and boys. It violates their rights, denies them of their childhoods, interrupts their education, exposes their health, and limits their opportunities. A range of causes contributes to child marriage among the Syrian refugee population, including poverty, the lack of educational opportunities, patriarchy and gender inequalities, inadequate implementation of the law, and concerns about violence. The Syrian crisis dramatically increased all these factors over the last decade which incentivised a peak in early marriage for Syrian refugees across all regions to which they fled. Sometimes, parents could not see any other option to make sure their children are safe and fed.

After meeting hundreds of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan, the one thing most Syrian refugee parents or caregivers have in common is the lack of access to information and awareness messages around the terrible risks of child marriage. I cannot but imagine how much of a difference the situation would have been for many Syrian girls and boys if more effort was put into shedding the light on the risks and effects – in the long and short term – that children face when forced into early marriage. Parents would have chosen differently.

For example, girls who are now supposed to be in school, learning and preparing for a better future, are now facing an immense threat to their health because of premature childbirth. “I got married when I was just 15. I got pregnant and gave birth, but my daughter died. She did not survive because I had an infection. I was not able to get pregnant again for the following four years,” says Soha with a sad voice. Other girls are left with immense responsibilities from a very young age just because of old traditions. “My husband was my relative. I got married when I was 16 years old. I was at a young age and carried the responsibility of being married, washing, cleaning, and taking care of several children,” says Mariam.

Whenever we mention child marriage, we always think of little girls but tend to forget that this is also occurring with young boys. They are forced to abandon their dreams to work and care for a family at an age they need someone to take care of them. “Early marriage destroyed my future. I lost my childhood. I do not recall having a childhood. I had to leave everything behind including my friends to start a family,” says Ahmad who got married at 14. As for Fadi, getting married at a young age destroyed his ambition for a better future. “I got married when I was 17 and I had to provide for my family with a low income. Education is everything to me, one must study to build their future and life,” he says.

Child marriage forced thousands of children to give up on their childhoods and their dreams to handle the responsibility of raising a family with little or no income, thus having more children born in fragile environments and poor conditions.

On the bright side, most of the child marriage victims I met understood the risks and consequences of child marriage after going through it and do not want their children to go through what they did. Nevertheless, a joint effort between governments, humanitarian organizations, and civil society is needed to put together a solid strategy to tackle child marriage and hopefully end it one day.

Between 20 May and 19 June, the World Vision Syria Response office took part in the Global Just Married social mobilization campaign. The campaign aimed to raise awareness of Syrian Refugee parents, caregivers, and community members living in Azraq camp in Jordan on the negative effects of child marriage on their children along with sharing global and local social media posts. World Vision Syria Response was able to reach 500 caregivers through the delivery of awareness messages on WhatsApp and reached over 50 families inside the camp with face to face messages through volunteers. Just married campaign was also well appraised by World Vision partners working inside Azraq Refugee camp.

Our hope will always remain to end child marriage one day!