Jordan: Too young to wed
Layla* peers into one of the many bridal shops that line the main shopping street of Za’atari, the world’s second-largest refugee camp.
Barbie-style wedding dresses hang from the tin roof, their plastic gems sparkling in the summer sun.
“It’s not this one, but it was one like it” she says, patting a fluffy white dress.
She is referring to her own. Layla married six months ago, a few days after her 15th birthday. Her groom was her 22-year-old cousin.
The fear of sexual harassment in the camp and the sense that young girls in particular are vulnerable pushed her parents into marrying her off early. They are not alone.
“Many of the girls who rent my dresses are below the age of 18 – usually around 15 years old,” says the shop owner, Ahmed*. But, he adds, there have been quite a few who are much younger than that.
A thriving industry
Ahmed, who fled to Za’atari almost two years ago, was the first to venture into the camp’s thriving wedding industry. Charging 25 Jordanian dinars (£21) for rental of a dress, he makes a steady living for his family of seven.
“Over the years business has increased enormously,” he says. “At the moment, I am renting around eight dresses a day during the week, and 15 on a Friday.”
A growing trend…
According to a recent briefing by Save the Children, since the start of the Syrian civil war, child marriage among Syrian refugees in Jordan has doubled.
A quarter of all Syrian refugee marriages registered in the kingdom involve a girl under the age of 18. Around half of these are marrying a man at least ten years their senior.
Many are unwilling brides. But dwindling resources, lack of economic opportunities and fear of sexual harassment are motivating Syrian refugees to marry their daughters off young.
Maha was 12 when her father forced her to marry a man double her age.
She now lives in a one-room apartment in East Amman, isolated from her friends and family, and dreams of her lost childhood back in Syria.
“We lived in a beautiful house with a garden, and my friends and I were a little naughty at school, we were always getting in trouble with the teachers for funny things we did. It was a happy, normal life. I loved it,” she told me.
A childhood stolen
Maha is pregnant, and life for her will never be the same. Her childhood has been stolen; she will have no chance to get an education.
Child marriage is a violation of human rights and the international community must place greater emphasis on tackling this growing problem among Syrian refugees in the region and within Syria.
These girls who have fled the war in Syria have already been subjected to more than any child should; they should at least have the chance to stay children a little longer.
By Rosie Thompson, Media Officer, Save the Children Jordan
*Names have been changed to protect identities.