A Lost Childhood – Syrian refugees in Lebanon

In Lebanon, there are over 1 million Syrian refugees. There are a number of barriers faced by these people, including maintaining legal status, access to education, work and healthcare. This article tells the story of just one of these people, her name is Ream* and she is an eighteen year old Syrian refugee in Lebanon. 

At the age of twelve, Ream left Syria shortly after the outbreak of the conflict. A conflict which led her not only to lose her home, but also her childhood and education.

Ream, along with her family, followed the same path as many other Syrians escaping the conflict to Lebanon. She was enthusiastic to start her life in Lebanon and continue her education. She dreamed of being a human rights lawyer, giving a voice to those who had none.

This dream did not last long. Registration requirements and safety concerns of her family thwarted her educational opportunities.

Left at home. Without routine. The monotony and the hopelessness of the situation began to erode at the once happy and ambitious child. Her mental health deteriorated. Her mother charged her with more responsibility in the household in a bid to pull her out of her depression. For two years, this was her existence.

At the age of fourteen, Ream was told about her impending marriage to a family friend. This was her chance to start a new life. Excited for the wedding day, she dreamed of wearing her white dress. After an idyllic day, she was filled of hope for a new life with her husband. A husband nearly double her age.

This story follows the same narrative as the other stories we have heard. Cracks began to appear and her feelings of hope dissipated. They were unable to register the marriage as Ream was too young. This legal status had consequences for the child she was bearing. Without legal status, her child would be born stateless – a life without clear rights or legal status.

Her problems also extended to the husband’s family. Living in a cramped space caused tensions to heighten. She tried to ease this by shouldering more responsibilities. This included not only household chores, but walking to retrieve water. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities and her pregnancy, she would often find herself in tears.

With problems escalating, she felt more and more overwhelmed and asked for a divorce so she could return to her family. Her husband refused. He threatened her stating he would not register the marriage, renounce their child and marry another woman. The ramifications of these actions were sufficient to convince her to stay.

Things did not get better. Her husband began to beat her, sometimes daily, and she worried about the physical affect of the trauma on her unborn child. She fled to her family seeking their support. Yet, they were not as supportive as she had hoped. With over 70% of Syrian refugees living below the poverty line in Lebanon, food is scare and hunger is rife. She was an additional mouth to feed. One they could not afford. They told her to forget about her old family and to return to her new one.

Ream had a choice: either to be alone and vulnerable on the streets or to return to her husband. She chose the latter. With a baby, she had not only herself to worry about, but another human. With another mouth to feed, she was often hungry, barely able to provide for her child despite her husband’s support.

Her health deteriorated and her husband decided to take her back to her family. He would visit her sporadically. After three months, her family decided it was time for her to fend for herself. Left out on the street, she begged her husband to look after her and her son. He obliged, renting her a small room. However this came at a cost. He appeared to only visit her when he wanted to have a target for his anger and frustration.

Her family, realising the extent of the situation, took her back in. After three years of limbo, Ream is now trying to rebuild her life and find the girl who once dreamed of being a human rights lawyer. She comes to SB OverSeas centre four times a week and attends our courses. At our centre, she also speaks of her story with the other girls to raise awareness of her and many other girls’ experiences with child marriage.

SB OverSeas works in Lebanon to educate, aid and empower those affected by conflict. We achieve this through our three schools and centre where we run educational courses for children and vocational courses for women. We also offer psychological support and a safe space for women and girls subject to child marriage. Learn more about us here.