Child marriage on the rise in Jordan

From 2012-16, 51,084 marriages of underage girls took place in Jordan.
Sunday 30/09/2018
A young actress plays the role of a girl forced to marry an older man during an event organised by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage. (AFP)
Shattered dreams. A young actress plays the role of a girl forced to marry an older man during an event organised by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage. (AFP)

AMMAN - Abir fled the civil war in Syria to Jordan when she was 13. Her situation as a refugee has negatively affected her life because her father approved her marriage at 14 to a 50-year-old Syrian refugee.

Now, 16, Abir — not her real name — is a divorced “little woman,” one of hundreds of cases of early marriage that have plagued Syrian refugees and Jordanians in recent years. An average of more than 200 marriage contracts were registered each day in 2017, in which about 30 involved underage brides, the Jordanian Ministry of Social Development said.

“I did not know what to expect or what marriage is about because at that time my father in a way forced me to accept,” Abir said, “For them (parents), marriage is the only way to keep females safe under the protection of their husbands and a way to prevent girls from veering away from how they were brought up.”

“My mother told me that my husband will bring me toys and will take care of me as one of his daughters and all I have to do is listen to him. She also said I will be able to continue my studies and live happily,” she added.

Abir’s dreams of toys and education were shattered after just one year. She returned to her family as a divorced and confused person with little hope of leading a normal life, especially since her family blamed her for the divorce.

Believing that a young girl could marry and continue her education is a fiction, especially if she becomes pregnant and her presence in school becomes difficult for other students and teachers, social activists say.

The Syrian community has integrated into Jordanian society, bringing traditions, including marriage at an early age. The Chief Islamic Justice Department (the top Sharia authority in Jordan) said 1,103 underage Syrian girls wed officially at Zaatari refugee camp in the first six months of 2017.

“This is really sad and shocking when we hear that there are 29 cases of early marriage registered on a daily basis. How can they force a child to marry and start a family and what are the success rates of such marriages when the wife does not understand the concept of being married?” asked activist Diana Qawasmeh.

“Definitely, families and the scavengers who roam the camps looking for young brides and convincing their families to marry them in return for a commission should be blamed for ruining the lives of children.”

From 2012-16, 51,084 marriages of underage girls took place in Jordan, the Chief Islamic Justice Department said. The Sisterhood is Global Institute, an international non-profit NGO with consultative status to the United Nations, said there were 10,907 early marriage cases in Jordan in 2016, of which 402 ended in divorce in the first year.

Qawasmeh said poverty, lack of education and population growth were some of the reasons behind child marriages in Jordan.

“Despite the efforts of the government and NGOs, early marriage cases are on the rise threatening the essence of the whole marriage institution and destroying the life and dreams of children,” she said.

At an event organised by the Jordanian National Commission for Women, a semi-governmental organisation that advocates empowering women, Jordanian Minister of Social Development Hala Lattouf pointed out the need to multiply efforts to curb early marriage cases in the kingdom.

“We have to spread awareness about the dangers of early marriage that could result in depriving girls of education and selecting the suitable husband for her life and the life of her future children,” she said.

Girls not Brides, a global partnership of more than 1,000 civil society organisations from more than 95 countries committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential, says approximately 8% of girls in Jordan are married before the age of 18, citing reasons as poverty and the need to protect girls from sexual violence in times of conflict.

Although the legal age for marriage in Jordan is 18, with the authorisation of two judges, a waiver can be granted for underage marriages.

For Abir, the chances of getting married again are slim in a conservative society where divorced women are looked upon unfavourably. In the meantime, she is still waiting for her toys to bring smiles to her face.