Underage Syrian refugee girls wed older Jordanians
Amman - Nasma Adel, 16, was wed privately to a 67-year-old Jordanian man, who promised to have her 12-member family leave a tented encampment for Syrian refugees straddling the northern border with Syria and resettle in the nearby city of Mafraq.
The couple married on May 25th in the presence of Adel’s family, without relatives or friends of the groom, who is only identified by his first name, Mahmoud.
“She is the fourth woman I marry, but I adore the most because she loves me and takes care of me,” Mahmoud said in a telephone interview.
He refused to be interviewed in person, or have his bride speak to The Arab Weekly. He also refused to have pictures of the couple taken, saying that may hurt his standing in the community, where friends and neighbours were told that the bride was 30 years old.
But a Syrian refugee teenager, 17-year-old Alia from Homs, who was married to a divorced 58-year-old Jordanian grocery store owner with six children on March 10th, said her marriage “is going well”.
“Initially, I didn’t love him, but I wanted him to employ my three brothers in his store to provide for our nine-member family,” she said in a telephone interview from her residence in Jordan’s northern city of Irbid. She said her brothers were hired days before her marriage.
An influx of Syrian refugees to Jordan and Lebanon provided Syrian girls an opportunity to escape poverty and deteriorating living standards. For men in both countries, it allowed them to marry — often girls half their age or younger — without worrying about the high price of dowry offered to brides of their nationalities.
Jordanian child relations expert Najat Abbasi said there were scores of young Syrian girls wed to Jordanians but who were divorced after satisfying the men’s carnal needs.
“It is devastating,” Abbasi said, pointing out that some young Syrian girls were advertising on social media networks that they are willing to wed for a onetime payment of 100 Jordanian dinars ($140). The phenomenon forced the Jordanian government last year to instruct legal marriage officers, known in Arabic as Maazouns, that any marriage contract outside the Islamic sharia court is illegal. It warned that the groom would bear the legal repercussions.
According to Jordanian government figures, 8,402 marriages were registered in Jordan’s Sharia court for girls who were between 15 and 17 in 2013. There was no breakdown for the number of Syrian girls among them, although officials estimated that 80% of the married girls were Syrian.
UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said early marriage among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan showed a sharp rise from 25% in 2013 to 31.7% in the first quarter of 2014.
“Poverty is the main reason behind these marriages,” Abbasi said. She said parents think that wedding at an early age will “protect their girls, but the reality is that they are throwing them into the unknown”.
In May, Jordanian rights activists handed Western embassies in the kingdom petitions signed by more than 100,000 people seeking support for ending child marriages in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.
According to the London-based Girls Not Brides (GNB), a global partnership of more than 450 civil society organisations from more than 70 countries, young brides are exposed to health hazards, such as complications in pregnancy and childbirth and HIV/AIDS.
GNB said that every year more than 15 million girls worldwide are married before they reach the age of 18, a flagrant violation of childhood rights to education, health wellbeing and personal improvement.
The Washington-based Population Reference Bureau, an entity specialising in population, health and the environment, said the percentage of women who married before their 18th birthday was especially high in Arab countries.
It said the highest percentage was 52% in South Sudan. The figure was 32% in Yemen followed by Iraq at 25%, the Palestinian territories 19%, Egypt 17% and Jordan 8%.
Amman lawyer Saed Hyasat said underage marriages are often marked by abuse. He cited a recent case of domestic violence involving a 15-year-old girl who was married to a 23-year-old man. “The husband was beating her so badly that she once was admitted to the hospital with a broken jaw,” Hyasat said.
According to the Ministry of Social Development, there were more than 33,963 cases of domestic violence reported in Jordan in 2013, compared with 39 cases in 1998.