Jordan + 1 more

Mapping responses to Child Marriage in Jordan: Reflections from practitioners and policymakers December 2018


Dr Aisha Hutchinson, Institute of Applied Social Research, University of Bedfordshire,

1. Introduction

As of 4th September 2018, 670,429 Syrians were officially registered as refugees by the UNHCR in Jordan, making it the country with the second greatest ratio of refugees to citizens in any country across the world, and fifth in absolute numbers of refugees [1, 2]. This has placed a significant strain on Jordanian social and economic resources, and has required an unprecedented response by the Jordanian Government in every sector of governance, as well as the humanitarian community [3]. The predominant location of refugees in host communities (84%) has particular implications for their care and protection. It is estimated by the UNHCR that 86% of Syrian refugees now live below the poverty line, facing challenges in accessing health services, education and reliable livelihoods to ensure they dwell in a ‘protective space’ [4]. The protracted nature of the ‘crisis’ also brings additional challenges and has increased the risk of refugees resorting to negative coping strategies to survive, such as child labour and child marriage [5].

Child marriage (marriage under 18 years of age) is widely considered as a form of gender-based violence (GBV) with huge implications for the realisation of the sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHRs) of the girl child [6]. A recent study by UNICEF on child marriage across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) highlights that while rates of child marriage in the region are in steady decline (and have been below globalaverages), conflict in the region threatens this progress [7]. The report warns that even national data indicating low levels of child marriage may mask much higher rates within sub-populations, particularly those affected by conflict in the region. Data from Jordan indicates that this is the case. Studies from UNICEF and the Higher Population Council show that the proportion of all registered Syrian marriages in Jordan which include a child has risen from 12% in 2011, to 18.4% in 2012, to 25% in 2013, to 32.3% in 2014 and to 34.6% in 2015 [8, 9]. Yet the proportion of marriages which include a child across other groups in Jordan have remained fairly static [8, 9].

Despite a lack of robust prevalence data on the impact of humanitarian contexts on child marriage, current evidence available indicates that rates can significantly increase in humanitarian emergencies and prolonged displacement a like [10-14]. This is often because of concerns about protection or because it is used as negative coping strategy in res- ponse to poverty, especially in affected populations using dowry or bride price [11]. However, there are many drivers associated with child marriage, as well as many different negative outcomes. Child marriage has therefore become a priority for humanitarian and United Nation (UN) organisations working with children or in response to gender-based violence (GBV) in Jordan [15]. Due to the common occurrence of child marriage and complexity of drivers and out- comes, there is an increased recognition of the need for coordinated responses to child marriage, and multi-agency and multi-sectorial responses [7]. Key sectors include those involved in child protection, gender-based violence (GBV), education, maternal and infant health, reproductive health, livelihoods, the justice system, personal status law, mental health and youth empowerment [7].

Responses to child marriage have been made by various agencies since Syrian refugees began to arrive in Jordan, however, rates of child marriage appear to have risen despite this. Seven years on, it is essential that we take stock, map and review the responses to child marriage in Jordan to inform the current momentum that is taking place through the government led National Committee on Child Marriage, and the UNICEF/UNFPA led Regional Action Plan to End Child Marriage. Through this study, policy and practice responses to child marriage in Jordan have been mapped through a review of all relevant literature and 17 semi-structured qualitative interviews on policies and approaches to child marriage in Jordan.