Crisis in Syria, part 5: Fear for girls caught up in the Syrian conflict

As the Syrian refugee crisis deepens, World Vision is increasingly concerned about the risk of child marriage among girls as young as 12, as parents fleeing violence in Syria struggle to protect their children amid a deepening humanitarian emergency.

This is the fifth installment in our weekly series about the Syrian conflict and refugee crisis. Miss any of the first four? Read them here.

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Reports from aid agencies and U.N. bodies show that some parents taking refuge are being forced to consider marrying off their children as a way to cope with and survive the incredible difficulties they are facing.

A recent report by World Vision, Untying the Knot, revealed that parents living through an emergency may resort to these marriages because they feel it is the safest option for their children.

“During a conflict like the one in Syria, families lose everything," said Erica Hall, World Vision senior child rights adviser. "They’ve been stripped of their homes, jobs, and savings -- but also community structures like schools, friends, and family that helped keep their children safe.

“It’s hard for parents to know where the next meal is going to come from and how they can protect their children from danger, including the very real threat of sexual violence.

“Parents will feel incredibly vulnerable and may believe that a husband will be able to protect their daughter from these threats, and allow them to better provide for their remaining children, too.

“But early marriages have long-term, negative effects on girls’ health, well-being, and future.”

With no sign of when refugee families will be able to return home and to a sense of normality, the threat to young girls is likely to remain high. World Vision is calling for more research to determine how many children are being affected.

Heba, 14, weeps as she ponders her situation. Her family fled from Syria to Lebanon not long ago, after their home and their village was destroyed. She needs surgery that could cost her life if she doesn't get it soon. (Photo: Patricia Mouamar/World Vision)

Staff from the organization met one mother, Amira*, who fears that arranging a marriage for her 12-year-old daughter, Sheereen, is the only remaining option to ensure her family’s survival.

Amira is seven months pregnant, with four other children to feed. She doesn’t know how she will pay the $100 rent for their one-room apartment.

“Sheereen would be our survival,” she said. “I spend my days sleeping or dwelling on my worries. I don’t like my life anymore.”

While some families are currently choosing to delay marriage for their children, it is likely that more people will soon reach a tipping point. With 8,000 people fleeing Syria every day and many soon running out of money, an early marriage for their daughters may be an option they can no longer avoid.

Families who have fled to countries like Lebanon and Jordan are living in cramped conditions, either in makeshift shelters or overcrowded flats.

More than 3 million people are in need of help, and 1 million of those have fled to neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq.

World Vision is working to provide food, safe water, hygiene kits, blankets, fuel, and safe places for children to recover from what they have been through.

No child should have to live in fear, and we know that providing a safe place for children can reduce their fear and anxiety about the risks of violence, exploitation, and abuse.

*Names have been changed to protect identities. Additional reporting provided by Vikki Meakin and Patricia Mouamar.

Make a one-time donation to help World Vision provide emergency assistance for Syrian refugees. Your gift will help us deliver basic hygiene kits and food vouchers for refugee families, as well as established Child-Friendly Spaces to provide affected children with a safe place to play, learn, and interact with their peers.

Please join us in prayer for all World Vision staff members working around the world, particularly in this region of conflict.

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