United Nations, New York/Beirut, Lebanon – An alarming rise in child marriages has been seen among the most vulnerable Syrian refugee populations in Lebanon, according to a newly completed survey conducted by UNFPA, the American University of Beirut and Sawa for Development and Aid.
The survey covered some 2,400 refugee women and girls living in Western Bekaa, and found that more than a third of those surveyed between the ages of 20 and 24 had been married before reaching age 18.
Among refugee girls currently between ages 15 and 17, some 24 per cent are married.
Before the devastating conflict erupted in Syria, child marriage was significantly less common among Syrians. Estimates vary, but some show child marriage rates to be four times higher among Syrian refugees today than among Syrians before the crisis. This indicates that displacement, instability and poverty are driving the underage marriages.
Even some of the data collectors, who were selected from the community being surveyed, are struggling with the pressure to marry off their daughters.
“I am convinced that no girl should get married before the age of 18. But when it comes to reality, it is different,” said Iman*, a Syrian refugee who was one of the data collectors.
She explained that, as a widow and the sole breadwinner for her family, she has trouble supporting her three children and ageing father.
“For this, reason my cousin, out of his good heart, wanted to help out by getting engaged to my daughter and supporting us financially,” she said.
Her daughter is 15.