Early marriage rise hits education of Syrian refugee girls in Jordan

Early and forced marriage has doubled among Syrian refugee girls living in Jordan – and half are being forced to marry men at least 10 years older.

The rise is having a double effect on girls' schooling. Children who drop out of school are more likely to marry – and those who get married are more likely to drop out of education, according to a new report by UNICEF and Save The Children.

Refugee girls who marry are expected to leave school in order to care for their husband and home, or to begin childbearing and childcare.

The report – Too Young To Wed – reveals that in pre-conflict Syria early marriage accounted for about 13% of all weddings – but that figure has doubled among girls who have fled with their families to neighbouring Jordan.

However, the report also says there is “determined resistance” among some refugee families, who feel their daughters are too young and should complete their education.

Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, said: “Child marriage is devastating for those girls concerned. Girls who marry before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than their peers who marry later and they have much more limited access to sexual and reproductive health, putting their young bodies at extreme risk if and when they become pregnant.”

The report comes ahead of the Girl Summit 2014 in London on July 22, which will discuss early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

The report says there are several reasons why Syrian refugee families are opting for early marriage for their daughters.

They rely on dwindling resources and lack economic opportunities – but are also aware of the need to protect the girls from sexual violence. Some families consider child marriage to be the best way to protect their female children and ease family resources.

Maha, who is 13, is already married to a man 10 years older. She said: “I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to finish my studies and become a doctor. But my parents forced me to marry.

“My father was worried about sexual harassment here.

“I’m pregnant now. (The foetus) is very weak because I’m so young and my body isn’t ready.”

On Save The Children's Facebook page, you can see what happened when Syrian girls at Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan made caricature drawings of early marriage as part of an awareness session. The results are powerful and poignant.