Syrian girl campaigns against child marriage from her refugee camp in Jordan

‘Girls from my home have their future lost or destroyed, this is something I can't accept. I have to fight for women's rights’

Charlie Atkin
Tuesday 19 April 2016 15:34
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Syrian girl educates fellow refugees about dangers of child marriage

Omaima Hoshan first became concerned when her classmates were started leaving school as young as 12-years-old.

“I started hearing about girls as young as 12 or 13 getting married. They would come to the school to say goodbye. I remember thinking they were making a big mistake, even before I knew the facts,” she recalls.

Omaima, a refugee herself at Jordan’s Za’atari camp after fleeing Syria in 2012, felt compelled to take action when one of those girls was her best friend.

“We were always together, and she was one of the best students in our class. She didn’t want to get married, but her parents thought it was the best option for her.” Omaima would never see her again.

Since that day the 15-year-old refugee has been campaigning against child marriage, encouraging her friends and classmates to share the risks of the practice with their parents.

As an outreach volunteer, she also hosts drawing and acting workshops in the hopes of communicating better with those who may intend to marry while underage. Several have already abandoned their plans to marry young.

The number of marriages involving someone below the age of 18 in Syria stood at 13% before the war. This figure has risen to 32% among Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees suggests the cause of this rise lies in families’ struggle to cope with the challenges of life inside refugee camps.

“While there is a cultural tradition of early marriage in some parts of Syria, including rural areas of Dara’a province, where the majority of refugees in Za’atari are from, various factors have led to its increased prevalence among Syrian refugees in Jordan.”

“These include the more challenging living conditions, and the precarious economic situation of some families, which encourage them to marry off their daughters to ease their financial responsibilities.”

In Jordan it is illegal to marry under the age of 18, however Shari’a judges can validate marriages for girls from the age of 15, ‘provided the child’s best interests are taken into account’ according to the UNHCR. Illegal marriages conducted by local sheikhs also take place however, involving girls aged 14 or even younger.

Omaima still hopes to marry in the future. “But only on my terms,” she says. “After I’ve finished my education and been to university.”

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