‘I have nothing’ cries Syrian child bride as poverty drives more refugee girls to wed

A young Syrian girl, holding a baby, poses for a photo at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek on Feb. 24, 2015. (AFP)
Updated 16 March 2018
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‘I have nothing’ cries Syrian child bride as poverty drives more refugee girls to wed

BEKAA VALLEY: As 17-year-old Aziza sat in her dark tent in a refugee camp, she rocked her baby while her tiny hands adjusted his pacifier, looking down at all she had left from two broken marriages.
Aziza’s parents arranged for her to marry her cousin when she was 14. Her mother, Rashida, said it was normal for girls her age to become brides in their Syrian tribe as it protected them from harassment and reduced pressure on the family budget.
“I regret that I got married,” Aziza, who declined to give her full name, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation as her eyes welled up with tears.
“The girls that are my age are now studying. They have ambition. I have nothing. I am totally destroyed.”
A growing number of girls among the 1.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon since 2011 are becoming wives amid rising poverty, aid groups said on the eighth anniversary of the conflict.
Around one in five Syrian girls aged between 15 and 19 in Lebanon is married, according to the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), which fears more young girls will be married off by families that cannot afford food, rent and medicines.
More than three quarters of the refugees in Lebanon are living below the poverty line and struggling to survive on less than $4 per day, UNICEF said.
Kafa, a local rights group, is calling on Lebanon to pass a law to make 18 the minimum age for marriage.
There is no minimum age of marriage in Lebanon. Religious communities’ personal status laws can allow girls younger than 15 to marry, according to Human Rights Watch.
The rights group said Lebanon is behind many other countries in the region that have set 18 as the minimum marriage age, including Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia and the UAE.
“It is escalating ... because they are living in a very closed community,” said Salwa Al Homsi, a spokeswoman for Kafa.
“The parents, they cannot afford to support their children.”
Aziza lives with her mother, father and five siblings in a small tent covered in plastic sheets in eastern Lebanon’s fertile Bekaa Valley — home to more than 300,000 refugees, the most densely populated area of refugees in Lebanon.
They escaped their hometown of Aleppo five years ago.
“My life in Syria was beautiful,” said Aziza, whose small-frame and adolescent features make her look younger than her years — a striking image of a child holding a child.
“I used to go to school ... and wanted to be a doctor,” said Aziza whose favorite subject was Arabic.
Her father and two of her sisters earn about 6,000 Lebanese pounds ($4) a day, picking grapes and potatoes seasonally.
“I have four daughters, I can’t give them everything they need,” said Rashida, adding that poverty was one reason they decided that Aziza should marry her 17-year-old cousin.
Aziza said she did not oppose the marriage at first, but she divorced after one year because of troubles with her mother-in-law and moved back into her parents’ tent.
When other refugees in her community started to “gossip” about her because she was divorced, she said the shame drove her into a second marriage, aged 16, to a 30-year-old Syrian man.
“I didn’t like him. I only married him because people were talking,” she said from inside her family’s tent.
Aziza said she left the man after about a year because he physically abused her. “The younger a girl gets married, the more at risk she is of domestic violence,” said Jihane Latrous, a UNICEF child protection specialist.
“It is an extremely worrying factor because they aren’t able to deal with such situations.”
Nearly 35 percent of women aged 20 to 24 in Western Bekaa surveyed in 2016 were married before reaching 18, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
Beyond setting a minimum age for marriage, education of girls is key to break the cycle of poverty, said Latrous.
“The less this young generation is educated, the less they are able, themselves, to bring up their children in a way that will empower their children,” she said.
As the oldest girl in her family, Aziza was adamant that her sisters learn from how she “suffered” and do not marry until they are 20 or older.
“Don’t get married and finish school,” is her message to fellow Syrian refugee girls.
As Aziza looked down at her five-month-old son, she imagined a better life for him.
“When he gets older, I want him to be educated and not be like me, not knowing how to read and write. I want him to know Arabic and English,” she said with a smile.


Renewed US-led airstrikes pound Daesh holdouts

Updated 23 March 2019
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Renewed US-led airstrikes pound Daesh holdouts

  • According to SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel, hundreds of Daesh fighters, including some women, still remain on the outskirts of the encampment
SOUSA, SYRIA: US-led warplanes bombed the north bank of the Euphrates River in eastern Syria on Friday to flush out holdout militants from the last sliver of their crumbling “caliphate.”
Friday’s bombardment ended two days of relative calm on the front line in the remote village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had paused its advance while it combed a makeshift militant encampment, which it overran on Tuesday.
An SDF official said warplanes of the US-led coalition resumed strikes on suspected militant positions before dawn on Friday.
Top SDF commander Jia Furat said his forces were engaging with the Daesh fighters on several fronts while the coalition warplanes provided air support.
The coalition said the “operation to complete the liberation of Baghouz is ongoing.”
“It remains a hard fight, and Daesh is showing that they intend to keep fighting for as long as possible,” it said. The SDF launched what it called its “final assault” against the rebels’ last redoubt in the village of Baghouz on Feb. 9.
Finally on Tuesday, they cornered diehard fighters into a few acres of farmland along the Euphrates River, after forcing them out of their rag-tag encampment of tents and battered vehicles.
The six-month-old operation to wipe out the last vestige of Daesh’s once-sprawling proto-state is close to reaching its inevitable outcome, but the SDF has said a declaration of victory will be made only after they have completed flushing out the last tunnels and hideouts.
According to SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel, hundreds of Daesh fighters, including some women, still remain on the outskirts of the encampment. They are hiding along the bank of the Euphrates River as well as at the base of a hill overlooking Baghouz, he told AFP.
“In around one or two days, we will conclude military operations if there are no surprise developments,” he said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Daesh holdouts were hiding in underground tunnels and caves in Baghouz.
SDF official Jiaker Amed said several militants want to surrender but are being prevented from doing so by other fighters.
“We are trying our best to wrap up the operation without fighting, but some of them are refusing to surrender,” he said.
More than 66,000 people, mostly civilians, have quit the last Daesh redoubt since Jan. 9, according to the SDF.
They comprise 5,000 militants and 24,000 of their relatives as well as 37,000 other civilians.
The thousands who have streamed out have been housed in cramped camps and prisons run by Kurdish forces further north.
On Wednesday night, around 2,000 women and children from Baghouz arrived at the largest camp, Al-Hol, which is struggling to cope with the influx of tens of thousands of people, many in poor health.
Since December, at least 138 people, mostly children, have died en route to Al-Hol or shortly after arrival, according to the International Rescue Committee.
Daesh declared a “caliphate” in June 2014 after seizing a vast swathe of territory larger than Britain straddling Iraq and Syria.
The loss of the Baghouz enclave would signal the demise of the “caliphate” in Syria, after its defeat in Iraq in 2017.
But Daesh has already begun its transformation into a guerilla organization, and still carries out deadly hit-and-run attacks from desert or mountain hideouts.
In a video released on Daesh’s social media channels on Thursday, militants vowed to continue to carry out attacks.
“To those who think our caliphate has ended, we say not only has it not ended, but it is here to stay,” said one fighter.
He urged Daesh supporters to conduct attacks in the West against the enemies of the “caliphate.”
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted following the repression of anti-regime protests in 2011.