Lebanon + 1 more

Understanding the social processes underpinning child marriage: The impact of protracted displacement in Lebanon on Syrian refugees


1. Introduction

The marriage of girls under 18 years of age has received increased attention over recent years in Lebanon, partly due to emerging evidence of increased levels of child marriage amongst Syrian refugees [1]. While grassroots organisations have been campaigning to increase the legal age of marriage and prevent child marriage for many years [2, 3], child marriage amongst Syrian refugees has increased the attention given to this both nationally and internationally. The prevalence and nature of child marriage in Lebanon varies significantly by nationality. According to a baseline survey conducted by UNICEF in 2015-2016, 6% of Lebanese girls and women aged 20 to 24 years were married before the age of 18, compared to 12% of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, 25% of Palestinian refugees from Syria and 40.5% of Syrian refugees [1]. Research has found that girls marry under 18 years of age for a variety of reasons, including social norms and traditional culture that accepts or values child marriage [4-8], to ensure girls are sufficiently protected [9-13], high levels of poverty and insecurity [6, 9, 12-20], low educational levels and school dropout [14, 21, 22], or because it is perceived as a religious practice [14, 21, 23-25].

Child marriage is the marriage of any person under the age of 18 years of age in accordance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1989, and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966. It is considered a violation of human rights as well as being associated with a long list of negative consequences [26]. While both boys and girls are married before they turn 18 in Lebanon, child marriage predominantly affects girls [14, 24]. The minimum legal age for marriage in Lebanon varies by religious confession as it is under the jurisdiction of personal status law (religious family law). Lebanon has 15 separate personal status laws for its recognised religions, which stipulate different ages from which a marriage can occur (see Table 1), but there is no civil code covering issues such as marriage [27].

Over the last 5 years there has been a plethora of research and other literature documenting the rise and nature of child marriage amongst those living in the Syrian refugee communities in both Jordan and Lebanon [29]. In Jordan, for example, previous research and literature has been primarily focused on confirming the prevalence of child marriage, the drivers of child marriage, the legal context of child marriage, the experience of child marriage, negative consequences and policy recommendations [29]. The following drivers have been identified in the literature;

  • Social norms, tradition and culture [4-8, 30] - Protection [5, 9-15, 19]
  • Gender inequality [6, 9, 10, 23, 24]
  • Poverty [6, 9, 12-20, 31-33]
  • Perceived religious practice [34]
  • Lack of birth registration [35, 36]
  • Low educational levels and inactivity in the home (not in school or employment) [14, 21, 22]
  • Positive social status associated with marriage [5, 8, 11, 14, 21, 24, 30, 37-39]

The literature also indicates that families are likely to receive regular proposals for their daughters [4], however, we know little about the ‘social process’ of marriage, such as when families start to receive proposals for their daughters, who facilitates the process, and the factors that are important when they are considering proposals of marriage for their daughters, particularly when they are under 18 years of age.

Child marriage is also often included within wider research on gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health (SRH), maternal health care and child protection. Previous research has highlighted the significant impact of displacement on rates and experiences of child marriage, despite it also having roots in some Syrian cultures [29]. While child marriage is a violation of human rights and a form of gender-based violence, it is also embedded in wider social processes of marriage. The social processes which underpin and facilitate child marriage, and how they are impacted by displacement, are currently not explored in sufficient depth for Syrian refugees. These social processes include decision-making processes, the process of consent, family negotiations, and adapted norms and values due to displacement. There is also a lack of information about dowries and the financial relationship between families. This research, therefore, focuses on exploring the private and public social processes underpinning child marriage (see figure 1), taking into account the drivers and negative outcomes of child marriage, using an in-depth narrative approach with Syrian girls and their families.