The increase in marriage of young refugee girls

Early divorce is a new trend in this refugee population

(Credit: CNN)

(CNN) – There are scenes and shrieks of girls being, well, girls. Aged 8 to 15, they’re enjoying their soccer. It is the brainchild of an unlikely coach, Amal Hoshan, a mother of five who’s gotten them into playing soccer, as a way to keep them out of marriage.

Some of the worst collateral damage from the Syrian war is an increase in early marriage. It is the result of poverty-stricken parents, with too many mouths to feed, or believing their girls will be safer with a husband.

In Jordan, you can legally wed at 18, but marriage is permitted for girls aged 15 and over if authorized by a judge.

Amal uses her coaching sessions to mentor these girls. She said, “I told them that is not allowed, [that] the girl is not capable, and she is just a kid who likes playing in the street with others. And even when the girl finishes school and gets married, only to get divorced after 2 or 3 months, and go back to her parents’ house.”

Around one in four Syrian refugee girls under eighteen married off in this region, according to the UNHCR.

Per UNHCR in Jordan: Early marriage (under 18 years old) has long been a practice in Syria, Jordan and the region. However, early marriage has increased from around 11% prior to the crisis, to around 25% during recent crisis years for Syrian refugee girls in the region. The legal age of marriage in Jordan is 18; however, marriage between 15-17 years is permitted under specific conditions when authorized by a judge.

Early divorce is a new trend in this refugee population.

One girl named Raeda was barely 17 when she got married three years ago to a Jordanian. She explained that “it was to escape the conditions in the camp.” Now back with her family, and new baby brother, in Azraq refugee camp, she says she fled her husband after just a few months.

Raeda said, “I never felt like his wife, because he never gave me any consideration or respect. So I felt like a stranger to him.”

When asked what she would say to young girls her age who were thinking about getting married, Raeda said, “The first thing to tell them is that it is not right for a young girl to get married. She should have an education and look after her future first. And the parents should be educated, instead of relying on tradition and customs that say a girl should get married when she reaches 16 or 17. Girls should be well prepared for married life and prepared to look after a family. That is why it is wrong.”

In Zaatari camp, most of the 28,000 kids go to school, girls and boys, in separate three hour shifts.

War has an especially harsh impact on women and girls. In early marriages, they can enter slave-like conditions, endure domestic abuse, and even rape. One 16-year old divorcee said she is relieved to be no longer trapped in that vicious cycle, and that her parents welcomed her back with open arms. She said, “I want to be myself, and focus on my education, and try to realize my dreams, and be like other students, and achieve it, and I want to become a lawyer and to be able to defend my country as well.”