Yumnaa Al Khalf – Deir Ezzor
Early marriage, minors’ marriage, and child marriage are all different names for community menace inherited in the Syrian society. This phenomenon is significantly increasing in Deir Ezzor governorate, both in the countryside and cities, due to the conditions experienced by populations over the past decade.
The intolerable economic conditions experienced by the population, the lack of awareness regarding the consequences and risks of such marriage, the prevailing conception among many families who support such marriage that it protects their daughters in unstable security conditions, lead to a high rate of marriage without taking into consideration the negative effects of this marriage. This is due to the mental and physical immaturity of girls in this age, their lack of awareness of the true meaning of marriage and its enormous burdens and responsibilities.
UNICEF defines child marriage as “any formal marriage or informal association between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child”.
“Early Marriage Protects from Shame”
“I was young, waiting for the sunrise to go to school and play with my friends, and then I’d go home to watch cartoons. I didn’t realize anything about getting married or expecting to get married at this age. However, my parents feared that I would bring them shame. The circumstances of the war led them to oppress me in this way, and at the same time I had no right to make my own decision.” says Alaa , a pseudonym, a 17-year-old resident of Al Hissan village in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor. She was forced to get married to a 30-year-old man who is 17 years older than her.
“Now, I am a mother of two and I am still a child, but this marriage gave me an unforgettable lifelong lesson to stand by my daughter to complete her education. I will not commit with her the same guilt that my parents have committed against me in order to follow outworn customs and traditions,” Alaa said.
Laila, a pseudonym, is not much different from Alaa, a 23-year-old widow and mother of three, who lives in the village of Mohimeda in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor, talking about her marriage journey, which, she said, has led to the loss of her entire life. “I was 14 years old, living in my family with my brothers and going to my school with so many dreams to get to college when my parents decided to force me to marry my cousin for promises my father gave my uncle to be his son’s wife,” says Leila.
Laila stopped talking a little because of the tears that filled her eyes, she continued: “On the first day of marriage I was very afraid of my cousin.I didn’t let him get close to me until he started beating me. I screamed and scried. He took me by force, which led to grave physical and psychological effects. I was forced to live with him, just like a lot of girls in my area.”
“Years have passed and I had three children from him. Due our poor living conditions, he decided to emigrate to Europe and sell our house for his trip, in the hope that he would send for us for reunification. However, news of him drowning in the sea with his companions was faster for us than the beautiful life we dreamed of. I returned with my children to live with my parents and under the control of my male brothers.”
Early Marriage for Money
Fatima, a pseudonym, 17-year-old girl from the village of Al Hissan in the western countryside of Deir Ezzor says: “A 30-year-old merchant from Aleppo province used to come over to our house, who was looking for a girl to marry, which led my brother to offer me to marry him. My brother started convincing me to marry him and talk about his financial situation, and that I would live with him for beautiful days, he said. I would only agree to marry to get rid of the bad economic conditions that we were living.”
Fatima continues, “we were married secretly and without an official contract in court, after agreeing on a high dowry. I had one condition which was to live near my family and he agreed to it without hesitation. He rented a house for us, where we lived only for two months, until he decided to go to Aleppo city to see his family without offering to accompany him. A week later, he called me to say that he will not return to Deir Ezzor and that he is married and loves his wife and children, and divorced me on the phone”
Fatima’s divorce lasted two years and only married men came and proposed to her, she said. “My parents greed for money without asking about that man. This was a cause of the destruction of my future and the end of my life, where my life is now meaningless” she added.
Early Marriage is Customary
“A father of girls is an endlessly heavy-hearted one”, with this commonly used proverb, Mr. Hasan, a pseudonym, started his interview with the author of this article. Mr. Hasan is a father of five daughters who considers them to be “The misery of life”, starting with a long sigh said “I have five daughters. God protected three, and I still have two at home. Once a girl becomes fourteen, I marry her off and get rid of this burden”.
Hassan explains his reasons for marrying his daughters off at a young age, saying: “The circumstances of the war forced us to many things, especially during the period of the control of the “Islamic State” organization over Deir Ezzor, which prevented the movement of women and girls without a guardian. I refused to send them to schools because the girl, even if she came out of her father’s house, should only go out to her husband’s house. Girls are a symbol of shame, and we are in a conservative society avoiding any feelings of shame. It is better for a girl to get married than staying as a spinster in her father’s house and becoming a talk of the town”
Negative Effects of Child Marriage
A female gynecologist, who declined to reveal her name, said in an interview with the author of the article “There are significant risks to a minor girl as a result of early marriage, most notably the possibility of rupture of the genitals as effects of intercourse, moreover, in the event of a pregnancy, these risks multiply and may often lead to death, fetal asphyxiation as a result of severe circulatory deficiency. On the other hand, osteoporosis could be another consequence at early age as a result of lack of calcium, not to mention anemia and abortion. Abortion rates and premature births increase, either because of a defect in female hormones or because the uterus does not adapt to the pregnancy process.”
Child Marriage is a Violation of Human Rights
The UNFPA describes child marriage as a violation and it rises in developing countries, where one in three girls marries before the age of 18 and one in five before the age of 15.
Article 16 (2) in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states “The betrothal and the marriage of a child shall have no legal effect, and all necessary action, including legislation, shall be taken to specify a minimum age for marriage and to make the registration of marriages in an official registry compulsory”.
UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor Anju Malhotra said: “When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase”. According to the agency, evidence suggests that girls who marry at an early age often leave formal education and become pregnant. Maternal deaths associated with pregnancy and childbirth are an important component of the deaths of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
Numbers and Statistics
The risk of marriage of underage girls in Syria is increasing day by day, a major problem that threatens the future of thousands of girls.
This percentage increased due to the circumstances of the war. Witnesses of the article confirm what a UNFPA official in 2019 pointed out about the high rate of early marriage in Syria from (13%) to (46%) during the war, and that areas controlled by ISIS suffered significant violence even on the subject of repeated marriages of girls.In the same statement, the UNFPA official considered that one of the reasons for early marriage was to lift the burden on the family for her eating, drinking and fearing that girls would be assaulted, based on sexual violence.
According to a report issued by UNFPA in March 2019 entitled “When Caged Birds Sing: Stories of Syrian Adolescent Girls”, approximately 12% of registered marriages among Syrian involved girls under age 18 when the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011. This figure rose to 25% in 2013. In early 2014, the figure had reached 32% and has remained relatively constant since.
In the years of Syrian war, the biggest loser in this long conflict was underage girls who were forced to marry as children without realizing the many consequences they were waiting for, which could end either with death, divorce or living in the darkness of cruelty. This phenomenon is worsening day by day and imposing a major problem that threatens the future of thousands of girls with the absence of the role of actors in reducing the problem and stopping this crime against childhood.
 Child marriage threatens the lives, well-being and futures of girls around the world. UNICEF
 The author of this article conducted a direct interview on 17 February 2022.
 Child marriage, UNFPA
 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women New York, 18 December 1979.
 UN: Child marriage dropped significantly in previous decade
 Young girls who got married more than once. UNFPA: Early marriage rises to 46 percent in Syria in crisis – Al-Watan Syrian Newspaper – March 2019
 When Caged Birds Sing: Stories of Syrian Adolescent Girls, UNFPA, March 2019.
 Early Marriage…. Destruction of Children’s Lives – 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence
 The Endless Tunnel, Justice for Life organization, January 2021.