The ongoing Syrian conflict has generated the largest refugee crisis in recent history and forced over 5.5 million Syrians to flee their home country. This has led to a dramatic increase in the practice of child marriages within the Syrian refugee communities.
Previous to the conflict, child marriage was not unheard of with 13% of young Syrian women being married before the age of 18. However, there has been a notable rise in the practice with 41% of young Syrian women married before the age of 18 not including the number of informal marriages.
Our work on the ground in Lebanon allows us to be privy to the stories from the girls affected by this practice. The following story is from one of the girls who attends our schools.
Our Stories: A Child Separated From Her Child
At twelve years old, Yosser was asked for her hand in marriage. She had enjoyed a normal childhood playing with her friends and going to school. This all changed with the outbreak of the Syrian conflict which led her family to seek refuge in Lebanon when she was nine years old. Three years later, an eighteen-year-old boy sought her hand in marriage.
Her father at first refused as he was unsure of the marriages’ implications on her life. However, her grandfather along with the rest of her family pushed the idea of marriage. Age thirteen, Yosser found herself registering her marriage and living in a house full of strangers. Her family had spoke of marriage in an almost fairytale-like way and told her she would be happy. It only took three weeks for the fairytale to shatter with one hit. One that turned into many more. The violence was random. After eight months facing daily violence, she ran home to her family. This time with her unborn child.
Her family were not supportive of her decision and forced her to return. The daily violence ensued, and one day, in a fit of anger he tore up their marriage papers. This act had serious ramifications. The unborn child would be born out of wedlock, not only carrying the social stigma of being an illegitimate child within a deeply traditional society, but also born into a legal vacuum, devoid of any rights.
Yosser’s family sought legal advice from the UNHCR. With the help of a lawyer, they received not only acknowledgment of the marriage, but also a divorce files. Along with the divorce came the realisation that her unborn child would be given into the custody of the husband.
Yosser is now attending SB OverSeas empowerment programs. Here, she has a safe space to talk about her experience and receives psychological support to help her deal with the trauma of separation. One day, with our support, we hope that she will have the opportunity to dream again.
SB OverSeas has three schools and empowerment centres in Lebanon working to serve those displaced due to the Syrian conflict. We are launching our #IAmAChildBride Campaign this month which aims to bring attention to the increasingly prevalent practice of child marriage.