23 Feb 2015
The number of child marriages has doubled among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan because of poverty and fear of sexual violence, international agencies said on Wednesday. Save the Children, in a report, “Too Young to Wed,” said children marrying in Syria before the country’s conflict erupted in 2011 accounted for 13 percent of all marriages. But “early and forced marriage among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan has doubled since the onset of war,” according to the report. It said 48 percent of them were forced into unions with men at least 10 years their senior. “Child marriage is devastating for those girls concerned,” said Saba al-Mobaslat, Save the Children’s country director in Jordan. “Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later, and they have much more limited access to sexual and reproductive health, putting their young bodies at extreme risk if and when they become pregnant.” Figures from the UN children’s agency UNICEF show that among Syrian refugees in Jordan, the rate of child marriages rose from 18 percent of all marriages in 2012, to 25 percent in 2013. Latest figures show this rate jumped to 32 percent in the first quarter of 2014, UNICEF said on Wednesday. Jordan, home to more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, allows girls under the age of 18 to marry with court approval. Government figures show that 735 marriages of Syrian girls under 18 were registered in 2013, compared to 42 in 2011. “As refugees, Syrian families are reliant on dwindling resources and lacking economic opportunities,” said the Save The Children report. “At the same time, they are all too aware of the need to protect their daughters from the threat of sexual violence,” it said. “Given these pressures, some families consider child marriage to be the best way to protect their female children and ease family resources.” UNICEF’s Jordan representative, Robert Jenkins, likewise warned that girls who marry before 18 are at increased risk of abuse and of medical complications during pregnancy. “They also have more limited economic opportunities due to loss of schooling and can get trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty,” he said. Mobaslat said the repercussions of forced marriage can be physical as well as mental — and even fatal. “The consequences for girls’ health of engaging in sexual activity while their bodies are still developing are devastating: girls under 15 are five times more likely to die in childbirth than fully-grown women,” he said.