Worldwide, 12 million girls are married under the age of 18 every year – that means 23 girls every minute. For Syria, the latest official data shows that 13 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18. However, the ongoing war and the humanitarian crisis have led to a dramatic increase in child marriages in Syria as well as among refugee communities in neighbouring countries. It is very hard to get reliable figures on early marriages among Syrians as most child marriages are unregistered and take place as unofficial religious ceremonies.
Early marriage is considered a crime
Kızıltepe Leader Women’s Associaten (KLWA) together with Welthungerhilfe and funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) is raising awareness about early marriage within the Syrian community: In awareness sessions, women and men learn about the laws regulating marriage in Turkey and the risks of child marriages. 14 women and three men have shown up for today’s session. Beritan Manap, a case worker for KLWA is leading the session. In Turkey, only persons authorised by the government can conduct official marriages at the legal age of 18, she explains. Marriages under 18 are possible too, but only with approval of the family at the age of 17 or an official court decision at the age of 16.
Beritan also makes clear that polygamy is not allowed in Turkey and that early marriage is considered a crime. Anyone who knows about cases of early marriage is obliged to report it to the authorities.
Vulnerable to poverty, domestic violence and abuse
36-year old Dalia Mahmoud is following the session closely. “I know about early marriages, but it’s good to know more about the effects of it. For example, on a child’s health. They might not be aware that they can be pregnant very young. The physical effect of early marriage can be very harmful,” she adds. Dalia herself had a case of early marriage in her family. “My cousin was supposed to get married when she was 15 years old, but she was able to escape. She knew that legally she could not be married in Turkey,” she says.
Within the wider Syrian community there are multiple reasons for early marriage. Some families, in particular those with many children, agree for their young daughters to be married for economic reasons, passing on the responsibility of caring for her to the husband and his family. Many families also believe they are protecting their daughters by marrying them off at a young age. The reality is that it usually leaves girls and young women even more vulnerable to poverty, domestic violence and abuse.
Married for the second time, at only 16
Melda Almorei was 15 years old when she first got married. Her husband was abusive and the marriage lasted only 50 days. At the age of 16, she got married to her second husband hopeful that things would be better this time. But her second husband started beating her. When she got pregnant she was worried not only for her own well-being, but also that of her unborn child. The next time her husband got violent she was able to call the police and eventually spent a couple of days in a safe house for women before she returned to her family in South-Eastern Turkey.
“I got married when I was 19, but I wanted to wait longer, because I felt like I still had things to learn. It was difficult for me to take this responsibility,” Ola Aljaloud explains. Her hopes for the future are simple. She wants for her own children to finish their education and live in a safe environment without war and constant displacement.
About the project
The awareness session on early marriage is part of an EU-funded project aimed at facilitating access to specialised protection and other welfare services for Syrians and non-Syrian refugees in Turkey. Existing services include EU-supported social welfare and education schemes such as the Emergency Social Safety Net Program (ESSN) or the Conditional Cash Transfer for Education Program (CCTE), which support parents in sending their children to school.
As part of the project, Welthungerhilfe together with its partners Kızıltepe Leader Women Association (KLWA) and Art Anywhere helps refugees to learn about their rights and obligations in Turkey and regularise their legal status by providing information and awareness sessions, individual financial, legal, and psycho-social support through case management activities, and by referring vulnerable cases to government institutions and local partner organisations.
(Project number: SYR 1051)