Married too soon: the consequences of early marriage in the Syrian conflict

By CARE Australia December 9, 2016 0 comments

Hanan*, (left) a Syrian social worker who counsels girls married before adulthood, meets with a client at a CARE-supported primary health care facility operated by Syria Relief and Development (SRD) in northern Syria. Identites intentionally withheld. Image: SRD/CARE

By Amani Kanjo, Project Coordinator, CARE partner – Syria Relief and Development

“When I met her, it was immediately clear that she wasn’t prepared for the responsibility of being a mother – she herself was still a child!” The girl was only 14, already a mother, but it was not the first time Hanan* had dealt with such a case.

Hanan has served as a social worker for three years in a CARE-supported primary healthcare facility operated by Syria Relief and Development (SRD) in northern Syria. On average, she meets with 15 families each week, many dealing with the psychosocial stress of war. Among the most concerning cases she encounters are girls who have been married before adulthood, many of whom are still teenagers, their own bodies not yet matured.

“A 14-year-old does not understand the severity of what awaits her. The responsibilities that she will shoulder – bearing and raising children, caring for a family – it’s not something any child should be forced to deal with. The girl’s own body has not yet developed; it’s unsafe – they’re unable to carry the baby to full term. Babies are often born premature, some weighing less than 2.5 kilograms, extremely below average.”

Furthermore, one of the greatest impacts of early marriage is on the girl’s emotional and psychological health.

“It will be impacted negatively, of course,” Hanan says, emphasising the significant effect it has on the girl as she grows more aware. “As she matures, we see her mental state worsen. In the case of one girl, our evaluation revealed her deep disappointment with her circumstances – a realisation that her life was not meeting the promised expectations.”

The CARE-supported SRD centre in northern Syria helps girls address these concerns by providing careful consultation to those who visit. Social workers support girls’ psychosocial skill development, train them in mental relaxation techniques and deliver emotional and behavioural change exercises. The team also helps girls find local community centres and “safe spaces” where they can interact with other women. Girls are given the opportunity to engage in discussions and focus groups where they can safely express their feelings on early marriage.

“We want to help her build on her strengths,” Hanan says with a positive outlook. “Through our work at the centre, we provide her with coping mechanisms that can better guide her in dealing with difficult circumstances.”

*Hanan used a pseudonym to protect her identity.

Read more about CARE’s work with women and girls.

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