July 22, 2013
The trap of early marriage remains a viable solution for large, impoverished families whose girls have little or no say in the matter. Part of the reason for that is that they were raised to believe the practice is acceptable. “More than 33% of [survey] participants were married when they were still children, and half of all respondents believed that the normal age of marriage for girls is under 18,” according to a study of Syrian female refugees that came out last month by the UN Women, the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development and the Queen Zein Al-Sharaf Institute for Development.
The report notes that one in five girls “never even go outside their homes in Syria and displacement has made it even less likely.”
Syria Direct’s Abdulrahman al-Masri and Nuha Shabaan interviewed Blerta Aliko, a UN Women Recovery Adviser in Amman about the marriage of underaged girls among Syrian refugees in Jordan. Aliko discussed the pressures that Syrian women face as refugees.
Q. What can you do to stop early marriage when the adults involved all agree on it?
A. It’s just about working and understanding, and then going slowly based on the needs, and based on the best ways on how they perceive change and how they want to go about change. [That means] increasing the awareness about the health implications of early marriage, about rights implications for women and girls, about the challenges they have about the child mortality, birth, about economic responsibilities that the young boys are put with,to cope with actually having to provide for the family from a very young age, and then how regressive it is with regards to their right of general access to education, access to the free choices people sometimes have [outside of] forced marriage. .
Q. What experiences that Syrians have been through that make them believe that early marriage for them or for their daughters is a solution?
A. They believe that once they marry early that they have a bigger and stronger social status within their families, as well as within the society. At the same time a lot of them are growing up with the idea of marrying early as the only way to actually go from their childhood to being assertive in society. The third one is that if there is no access to education for different reasons: cultural, traditional, or simply there is no way to attend school, then the marriage is an opportunity.
Other reasons include the traditional beliefs of mothers, for example, who say, the earlier we marry our daughters, the better it is for them because it’s easier for them to adjust, so there are some traditional customs and we need to look at them.
Syrians themselves [must acknowledge] differences between themselves, the difference between urban Syrians or rural Syrians with regards to the practice of early marriage.
Q. Do you see any difference in pressure on families to marry off their daughters between Syrians in refugee camps like Za’atari, and the urban refugees living on their own?
A. I was highlighting the risks of pressures and different pressure points. The economic one is a strong pressure point and the second one is protection and physical security.
You know that the brothers and fathers are really feeling stressed about providing security for their sisters and even for their mothers and their wives. The issue is that, for example, with freedom of movement, we are talking about 20% of females that have no freedom of movement because the brothers prefer to [keep] them home and not let them look for jobs outside or do other things outside for themselves. There is a question of honor. If something happens to those girls or to those women, the whole family’s honor will be in question, so they prefer to marry them off so that these girls or women are well protected. It transfers the brother’s responsibility to the husband.