In Mafraq, Jordan, the bride-to-be was so young and shy, she spent her engagement party cloaked in a hooded robe that swallowed her slim figure but could not quite hide the ruffled pink dress her fiancé’s family had rented for her.
As the Syrian women celebrating her coming wedding to an 18-year-old cousin chattered around her in the Zaatari refugee camp, she squirreled herself in a corner, perking up only when a photo or message from a friend popped up on her cellphone. The girl, Rahaf Yousef, is 13.
Speaking wistfully of her days at school, she declared herself throughout the day to be “indifferent” to the marriage she says will keep her from finishing her education. But no one seemed to be listening.
For many Syrians stuck in Jordan’s squalid and sometimes dangerous refugee camps, marrying girls off at younger and younger ages is increasingly being seen as a necessity — a way of easing the financial burden on families with little or no income and allaying fears of rape and sexual harassment in makeshift living spaces where it is harder to enforce the rule of law. As a result, Unicef says, the number of marriages involving girls younger than 18 has ballooned since the war in Syria started.
Even among displaced Syrians who live outside the camps — is increasingly worrying international aid groups and women’s advocates who say that the Syrians are simply trading immediate dangers for longer-term ones. They tick off a laundry list of threats for women worldwide that accompany marrying before they are 18.
High on the list, they say, are increased risks of being the victims of domestic violence and an abrupt end to the young women’s education. The aid workers also worry about pregnancies among girls whose age makes them more vulnerable to certain life-threatening complications like eclampsia, which is characterized by seizures.
A majority of the Syrian girls marry into Jordanian families, Unicef reported, ensuring themselves a place in Jordan outside the refugee camps, and a new home country for the long term.
Although the marriage of girls as young as 13 is not unheard-of in parts of the Middle East, including rural Syria, that practice has not been common in areas of Syria or Jordan with higher levels of education. Jordanian law allows marriages for girls and boys 15 to 18 years old, but it requires that a chief justice of a Shariah, or Islamic, court determine that all sides agree to the match.
In an attempt to ensure the same level of scrutiny for Syrian marriages, the Jordanian government, which has struggled to accommodate more than 600,000 of the more than three million Syrians who have fled their country, has opened a Shariah court in the Zaatari camp. But the minister of social development, Reem Abu Hassan, said that it was difficult for judges to say no to early marriages given the circumstances, and difficult to ensure even that all the marriages were registered.
“We have to be practical and see the challenges the Syrians are facing,” she said.
Human rights advocates say many of the women arrived in Jordan terrified of rape because, as the United Nations has reported, sexual violence had become a “persistent feature of the Syrian war.” And they struggled to adjust to living circumstances in Jordan that were different from peacetime Syria, where men often did the shopping and other chores outside the home to avoid having their women exposed to the public.
Source: NY Times