Aid agency World Vision is today voicing concerns that the risk of girls as young as 12 being married could increase, as parents who flee Syria struggle to protect their children amid a deepening humanitarian crisis.
Reports from aid agencies and UN bodies show some parents taking refuge in Lebanon and Jordan are being forced to consider marrying off their children, as a way to cope with and survive the incredible difficulties they are facing.
A recent report by World Vision, Untying the knot, revealed parents living through an emergency may resort to these marriages because they feel it is the safest option for their children.
Erica Hall, Senior Child Rights Policy Advisor at World Vision, said:
“During a conflict like the one in Syria, families lose everything. They’ve been stripped of their homes, jobs and savings - but also community structures like schools, friends and family that helped keep their children safe.
“It’s hard for parents to know where the next meal is going to come from and how they can protect their children from danger, including the very real threat of sexual violence.
“Parents will feel incredibly vulnerable and may believe a husband will be able to protect their daughter from these threats and to better provide for their remaining children too.
“But early marriages have long term, negative impacts on girls’ health, wellbeing and future.”
With no sign of when refugee families will be able to return home and to a sense of normality, the threat to young girls is likely to remain high.
World Vision is calling for more research to determine how many children are being affected.
Staff from the agency recently met one mother, Amira, who fears arranging a marriage for her 12-year-old daughter, Sheereen, is the only remaining option to ensure her family’s survival.
Amira is seven months pregnant with four other children to feed. She doesn’t know how she will pay the $100 rent for her one room apartment.
“Sheereen would be our survival” she said. “I spend my days sleeping or dwelling on my worries. I don’t like my life anymore.”
While some families are currently choosing to delay marriage for their children, it is likely more people will soon reach a tipping point. With 8,000 people fleeing Syria every day and many soon running out of money, an early marriage for their daughter may be an option they can no longer avoid.
Families who have fled to countries like Lebanon and Jordan are living in cramped conditions either in makeshift shelters or overcrowded flats.
More than three million people are in need of help and one million of those have fled to neighbouring countries including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.
World Vision is working to provide food, safe water, hygiene kits, blankets, fuel and safe places for children to recover from what they have been through.
No child should have to live in fear and we know that providing a safe place for children can reduce their fear and anxiety about the risks of violence, exploitation and abuse.
World Vision is a member of The Disasters Emergency Committee, whose appeal for the Syria Crisis has so far raised more than five million pounds. You can donate at www.dec.org.uk or 0370 60 60 900