Early marriage blights lives of young girls in Lebanon’s marginalized communities

Special Besides building awareness, aid agencies believe the key to ending child marriage is poverty reduction and providing vulnerable communities with economic security. (Shutterstock)
Besides building awareness, aid agencies believe the key to ending child marriage is poverty reduction and providing vulnerable communities with economic security. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 24 February 2022

Early marriage blights lives of young girls in Lebanon’s marginalized communities

Besides building awareness, aid agencies believe the key to ending child marriage is poverty reduction and providing vulnerable communities with economic security. (Shutterstock)
  • Lebanese and Syrian refugee families compelled by circumstances to marry off their daughters before 18
  • Aid agencies see providing economic security to underprivileged people as one way to tackle the problem

DUBAI: Nadia, 14, should be in school in her native Syria. Instead she is married to someone 13 years her senior in neighboring Lebanon.

She was married off by her father, Yasser, a Syrian refugee, on the promise of $8,000, half upfront and the rest when the marriage contract was signed.

“Her suitor approached me when she was studying,” Yasser told Arab News. “He promised he would treat her right and help me open a minimarket to better my finances. But he turned out to be a liar and an abuser.”

Among refugees in Lebanon, Nadia’s plight is not uncommon. Grinding poverty and a dearth of opportunities have forced many families to make similarly desperate decisions — in effect selling their daughters to secure a semblance of financial security.

Yasser regrets his decision. “Her husband won’t let her talk to me,” he said. “I called once. He overheard her saying baba (father) and then snatched the phone away. I felt like my heart was set on fire.”




A campaign to highlight the plight of child brides went viral on social media thanks to a powerful image showing a middle-aged man posing with a 12-year-old girl on their wedding day. (Supplied)

In addition to the perils of poverty in exile, the estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon must also endure the myriad of challenges facing their host country amid its crippling economic crisis.

Add to that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, political paralysis and the ongoing violence in Syria that militate against the return of displaced families, and the options for many appear bleak.

Against such a backdrop, marrying off children is seen by some communities — including impoverished Lebanese — as one of the few avenues available to them.

Reem, who is Lebanese, was only 16 when she consented to an arranged marriage. She did not object to the idea because several of her friends and neighbors were also tying the knot at around the same time.

One of the main factors in her decision — which in reality was only partly her own to make — was a desire to ease the financial burden on her parents. Now, three years into her marriage, she feels trapped.




A Lebanese woman holds a placard as she participates in a march against marriage before the age of 18, in the capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

“I wish I never went through it,” she told Arab News. “What did I know? I have a daughter. Where will I go with her? I thought I was helping my parents to have one less mouth to feed. Now it seems I added one.”

In Lebanon and Syria, children continue to be married off, with neither government paying much heed. Under Lebanon’s constitution, personal-status laws are decreed by each individual sect, combining common law with religious doctrine.

As a result, matters such as marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance are often governed by religious courts. Each of the major sects has a different legal age for marriage; for Catholics it is 14, Sunnis have raised it to 18, and Shiites have set it at 15.

According to the constitution: “The state guarantees that the personal status and religious interests of the population, to whatever religious sect they belong, shall be respected.”




Aya Majzoub, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, says the impact of child marriage on young girls is “devastating.” (Supplied)

Civil society groups in Lebanon have long urged the government to introduce an all-encompassing personal-status law.

A report published by Human Rights Watch in 2017 said it would be a “common sense measure” to raise, without delay, the minimum age of marriage to 18 without any exceptions. Such a law was drafted that same year but never passed.

“The impact on girls is devastating,” Aya Majzoub, a researcher for HRW, told Arab News. “They are at heightened risk of marital rape, domestic violence and a range of health problems due to early childbearing.

“Lebanon’s parliament can help end this practice. The Lebanese government and local authorities should develop programs to prevent child marriages, such as empowering girls with information and support networks, as well as engaging parents and community members about the negative effects of child marriage.”

INNUMBERS

* 12 million girls under the age of 18 married off worldwide every year. (HRW)

* 13 million additional child marriages estimated to occur in next 10 years due to the pandemic. (UN)

* 2030 is UN’s Sustainable Development Goal target year for eliminating marriage before age of 18

The high number of children who have missed out on an education in Lebanon over the past two years, because of the pandemic and the economic crisis, has increased the likelihood of premature marriage, particularly among vulnerable refugee communities.

A recent report titled Searching For Hope published by UNICEF, the UN’s children’s agency, revealed that 31 percent of children in Lebanon are out of school and that enrollment in classes had dropped to 43 percent in the current academic year.

The figures are thought to be much worse among refugee communities, where in many cases children have little access to any education at all.

Aid agencies have made efforts to end the custom of underage marriage by raising awareness of the effects it has on girls’ lives and the potential for traumatic physical damage to pre-teens whose bodies are not sufficiently developed to endure the rigors of childbirth.

KAFA, which translates as “enough” in Arabic, is a Lebanese nongovernmental organization that was established in 2005 with the aim of eliminating all forms of gender-based violence and exploitation.




Besides legal reforms and active public-awareness campaigns, aid agencies believe the key to ending child marriage is poverty reduction and providing vulnerable communities with economic security. (AFP/File Photo)

In 2016, it launched a campaign to highlight the plight of child brides. It also provides psychosocial support to survivors.

The campaign went viral on social media thanks to an extremely powerful image that showed a middle-aged man posing with a 12-year-old girl on their wedding day.

“Based on the abused women who come to our center, our statistics show that 20 percent of them were actually child brides,” Celine Al-Kik, supervisor of the KAFA support center, told Arab News.

“There is a link between violence and child marriages. We are permitted by law to intervene and provide legal assistance when the underage girl is kidnapped, and when her parents oppose her marriage when her suitor has her convinced.”

Besides legal reforms and active public-awareness campaigns, aid agencies believe the key to ending child marriage is poverty reduction and providing vulnerable communities with economic security.

“Families experiencing the economic crisis in Lebanon are increasingly resorting to marrying off young girls as a coping strategy for the deepening crisis,” Nana Ndeda, policy director with Save the Children, told Arab News.

“It is important that the economic drivers of child marriage are urgently addressed. Girls who marry are most likely to drop out of school and have limited access to decent work. Child marriage is a violation of human rights.”




Young Lebanese girls disguised as brides hold a placard as they participate in a march against marriage before the age of 18, in the capital Beirut on March 2, 2019. (AFP/ANWAR AMRO/File Photo)

Rawda Mazloum, a Syrian refugee, campaigns on the issues of women’s rights and gender-based violence in the camps of eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

She organizes community workshops and partners with local nongovernmental organizations, such as KAFA, to try to raise awareness about the growing rates of child marriage, divorces and violence within the Syrian refugee community.

“The youngest girl I know of (who got married) was only 13,” Mazloum told Arab News. “Her parents, like the rest, were struggling. These girls often get abused. They are not aware of their rights as they are still children. They are victims of ignorance, poverty and war.”

As the crises on both sides of the Syrian-Lebanese border bleed into one another, the daily fight for survival, and the desperate decisions that come with it, is unlikely to end soon.

A report published in 2019 by Save The Children in Lebanon, titled No I Don’t, lists poverty, conflict and lack of education as the primary factors driving child marriage.




A report published by Human Rights Watch in 2017 said it would be a “common sense measure” to raise, without delay, the minimum age of marriage to 18 without any exceptions. (AFP/File Photo)

However, it notes that child marriage can also be a means by which families try to protect their daughters from sexual harassment.

Parents who have married off young daughters often say security is a key motivation. Indeed, when refugees and impoverished households live in densely populated spaces among many strangers, there is a higher perceived risk of sexual harassment and violence toward girls.

Providing a male figure who can offer protection is often a consideration. In the case of Yasser and his daughter Nadia, however, the opposite proved to be the case.

“I thought I was offering her a better alternative, a better life,” he told Arab News. “But he wasn’t serious about her. He used her for fun.”


Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks
Updated 8 sec ago

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks
  • The issues discussed included Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, incursions into Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, and settler violence

CAIRO: Tarek Tayel, head of Egypt’s mission in Ramallah, met with Jibril Rajoub, secretary of Fatah’s central committee, and discussed the latest political developments regarding Palestine.

The issues discussed included Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, incursions into Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, and settler violence.

After the meeting, Tayel affirmed the continuation of Egyptian support for the Palestinian people at all levels, including peace efforts that guarantee the restoration of their rights, intra-Palestinian reconciliation, and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip.

He praised the efforts of Rajoub’s team to pay attention to youth activities and events, in light of his presidency of the Palestinian Olympic Committee.


UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya
Updated 4 min 28 sec ago

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya
  • Militia run by seven brothers executed and imprisoned hundreds of people between 2016-2020
  • Surviving leaders of the Kaniyat are mostly believed to have fled to areas of eastern Libya

GENEVA: A UN-appointed mission to Libya said on Monday there are “probable mass graves” yet to be investigated, possibly as many as 100, in a town where hundreds of bodies have already been found and it urged Tripoli to continue searching.
The report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council this week details how a militia run by seven brothers executed and imprisoned hundreds of people between 2016-2020, sometimes keeping them in tiny oven-like structures called “the boxes” which were set alight during interrogations.
The evidence of kidnappings, murder and torture in Tarhouna by the independent Fact-Finding Mission represents one of the most egregious examples of human rights abuses in the turbulent period since long-ruling Muammar Qaddafi’s ousting in 2011.
Among the victims were the disabled as well as women and children, the 51-page report said.
Based on the testimonies of residents and two site visits, the mission found “reasonable grounds” that the Kaniyat militia committed crimes against humanity. It identified four commanders who participated directly in them.
Already, Libyan authorities have recovered 247 bodies in mass and individual grave sites in the Tarhouna area in Western Libya. Many were still handcuffed and blindfolded.
The mission used satellite imagery showing signs of soil disturbances among other evidence to identify three new likely sites. But there could be many more, it said, citing an existing grave known as ‘The Landfill’ where just a tiny fraction of the site has been investigated.
“According to insider knowledge, there might still be up to 100 as of yet undiscovered mass graves,” the report said.
It is not immediately clear how the findings will reflect on Libyan authorities. Libya’s diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond for a request for comment.
At one stage, the Kaniyat was aligned with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord but later with the eastern Libyan National Army led by commander Khalifa Haftar that tried, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the National Accord administration. The militia no longer holds authority in Tarhouna. The surviving leaders of the Kaniyat are mostly believed to have fled to areas of eastern Libya under Haftar’s control.
In its conclusions, the FFM calls on Libyan authorities to continue searching for the graves. It also urges them to establish a special tribunal to prosecute international crimes.
However, the report refers to difficulties with cooperation in the past. Diplomats and UN sources told Reuters that Libya had in the past expressed reservations about continuing the mission, which expires this month.
A resolution is currently before the Geneva-based council to keep investigations going for another nine months, which is less than some had hoped for. A decision is expected this week.


Yemeni troops launch campaign against Al-Qaeda

Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2022

Yemeni troops launch campaign against Al-Qaeda

Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
  • Offensive in Abyan governorate aimed at preventing resurgence by terror group

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni special forces have launched an offensive against Al-Qaeda in the southern governorate of Abyan, amid reports that the terrorist group is attempting a comeback.
Elite counterterrorism troops have been deployed in mountains and valleys in Abyan to prevent Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its branch in Yemen, from turning those areas into safe havens or launch pads for strikes against government troops in the south.
Abdul Rahman Al-Shonini, commander of counterterrorism forces in Abyan, said the campaign was launched after receiving information that AQAP was gathering in remote valleys and mountains to launch attacks against government troops in the south. He vowed to thwart its attempts to resurge in Abyan.

SPEEDREAD

• Elite counterterrorism troops have been deployed in mountains and valleys in Abyan to prevent Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its branch in Yemen, from turning those areas into safe havens or launch pads for strikes against government troops in the south.

• Last month, local media and residents said masked AQAP terrorists appeared in some valleys and areas in Abyan, ambushing troops and kidnapping residents.

His forces have not encountered any resistance as AQAP terrorists have reportedly fled to their hideouts in mountains between Abyan and Al-Bayda governorate.
Last month, local media and residents said masked AQAP terrorists appeared in some valleys and areas in Abyan, ambushing troops and kidnapping residents.
Local security officials accuse AQAP of orchestrating a string of attacks that killed at least 10 soldiers in Abyan and Shabwa governorate last month.
In 2015, AQAP exploited instability stemming from the war in Yemen to seize large swaths of land in southern governorates, including Hadramout, Abyan and Lahj.
Thanks to military support from the Arab coalition, Yemeni troops managed to push AQAP from key cities, killing and capturing hundreds of terrorists.
Last month, various armed forces in Abyan, including government troops and the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council — which had fought each other in 2019 and 2020 — agreed to form a joint command room to confront AQAP.

 


Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute returns to the fore

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
Updated 03 July 2022

Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute returns to the fore

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
  • US mediator Amos Hochstein sent a proposal to Lebanon in March on the demarcation starting from Line 23, which was drawn in a zigzag form

BEIRUT: A maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel has returned to the fore following a security development on Saturday night.

Israel’s army spokesman Avichay Adraee said warplanes and an Israeli missile ship had intercepted three drones that approached from Lebanon’s side toward the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

Hezbollah’s military wing, the Islamic Resistance, confirmed the incident in a statement: “A group affiliated with martyrs Jamil Skaff and Mahdi Yaghi launched three drones of different sizes toward the disputed area, over the Karish gas field, to carry out reconnaissance missions. The mission was accomplished and the message was conveyed.”

Lebanon mostly stayed silent on the development, although caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said there was a possibility of reaching an agreement on the border issue in September and that information from the US and UN showed there was progress in the negotiations.

FASTFACT

Israel’s army spokesman Avichay Adraee said warplanes and an Israeli missile ship had intercepted three drones that approached from Lebanon’s side toward the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

US mediator Amos Hochstein sent a proposal to Lebanon in March on the demarcation starting from Line 23, which was drawn in a zigzag form.

Lebanon handed him an oral response, which he did not reveal, pending the Israeli response.

Lebanon has been unable to confirm that Line 29 — which includes the Karish gas field — is the maritime border of Lebanon due to the failure of President Michel Aoun to sign a draft amendment to Decree 6433.

It was issued in 2011 and specified that Line 23 was the point for negotiations with Israel to demarcate the maritime borders. However, Aoun considers Line 29 to be the point for negotiations.

Line 29 gives Lebanon an additional area estimated at 1,430 square km while, according to the decree deposited with the UN, Lebanon only gets 860 square km of the disputed area.

Mohammed Yazbeck, Ayatollah Khamenei’s legal representative in Lebanon, said on Sunday: “Lebanon’s preservation of its wealth can only be achieved by informing the enemy that we are strong. The message was delivered by drones. This message is not only for the Israeli enemy but also for the American mediator, to understand that Lebanon’s rights cannot be underestimated or ridiculed.”

Former MP Fares Souaid said: “Hezbollah’s drones over Karish are aimed at reminding all parties that Iran is present in the ongoing negotiations between Lebanon and Israel over border demarcation under American auspices and at the expense of the Lebanese interest.

“The incident confirmed by Hezbollah may take place once again, and more serious incidents may occur. Therefore, we call on the nation’s representatives to raise the issue of Iran’s occupation within Parliament.”

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that Hezbollah constituted an “obstacle” to an agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

“The party continues to walk the path of terrorism and undermines Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on the maritime borders.”

He said Israel would continue to protect itself, its citizens, and its interests.

Israel’s army said Hezbollah was trying to undermine the country’s sovereignty on the ground, in the air, and at sea. “The economic waters are part of Israel and are not a conflict zone. No discussion is necessary,” it added.

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the drones were flown near the Karish gas field. One was downed by a fighter jet, and the other two were taken out by Barak 8 missiles launched from a missile ship.

It said Hezbollah had sent out different types of drones that flew at low altitudes. They were monitored and intercepted through coordination between the naval and air forces.

The newspaper quoted the Israeli army as saying: “Initial assessments indicated that the drones were not armed and did not pose any threat. This is an attempt to undermine negotiations with Lebanon regarding the maritime border, and Hezbollah wants to destroy Lebanon.”

The report said Hezbollah had previously sent out drones to Israeli territory, but Saturday night’s development was the first time that such an operation had been carried out on the floating gas platform in Karish, where no gas had yet been extracted.

“The incident is a message to Israel that Hezbollah can carry out the threats made by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in recent weeks. By launching these drones, Hezbollah acted against the Lebanese interest, despite the progress made in the file of demarcating the maritime borders through the efforts of American mediator Amos Hochstein," it said. "What happened not only violates the negotiations but also indicates that Hezbollah violated its position regarding not taking any action without a Lebanese national agreement or consensus.”


Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces
Updated 04 July 2022

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces
  • Protesters are demanding a restoration of civilian rule that was launched after the 2019 which the coup derailed

KHARTOUM: Hundreds of Sudanese protesters demanding an end to military rule took to the streets of the capital Khartoum and its suburbs for a fourth straight day Sunday, witnesses said.
A violent crackdown by security forces during mass rallies on Thursday killed nine people, according to medics, the deadliest day for several months in the long-running protests against a coup last October led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
Recent protests have seen crowds burn tires and barricade roads with bricks, while security forces have used live bullets, fired barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed powerful water cannons, according to medics and the United Nations.
Demonstrators are demanding a restoration of the transition to civilian rule that was launched after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir and which the coup derailed.
“We will continue this sit-in until the coup is overturned, and we have a fully civilian government,” demonstrator Muayyad Mohamed told AFP in central Khartoum.
The death toll from protest-related violence has reached 114 since last year’s coup. The latest fatality came on Saturday when a demonstrator died from wounds sustained at a June 16 rally, according to pro-democracy medics.

“We will not compromise until the goals of our revolution are realized,” said Soha, 25, another protester, who only gave her first name.
“We are here in the street demanding freedom, peace, justice, a civil state and the return of the military to the barracks.”
Last year’s coup plunged Sudan further into political and economic turmoil that has sent consumer prices spiralling and resulted in life-threatening food shortages.
On Sunday, witnesses reported a heavy deployment of security forces on the streets of Khartoum, including army vehicles and those of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a feared paramilitary unit commanded by Burhan’s deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
The RSF incorporated members of the Janjaweed militia, which was accused by rights groups of atrocities during the conflict that erupted in 2003 in the western region of Darfur.
More recently, the RSF has been accused of taking part in crackdowns on protesters marching against military rule.
The international community has condemned the recent bloodshed, with the UN rights chief urging an independent probe into Thursday’s violence.

The UN, African Union and regional bloc IGAD have tried to facilitate dialogue between the generals and civilians, but the main civilian factions have boycotted.
On Friday, the three bodies jointly condemned the violence and “the use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.”
Yasser Arman from Sudan’s main civilian bloc the Forces for Freedom and Change on Sunday again expressed opposition to a return to negotiations with the military and its allies.
“The bullets that have cut down protesters have cut down the political process,” he told a press conference, adding, “It’s not us who broke it off.”
In the restive Darfur region, which has seen a recent resurgence in violence, General Daglo — known as Hemeti — on Sunday called “on all political forces, especially the youth,” to come to the table.
“Dialogue is the only way to guarantee stability in our country,” he said at a ceremony where 2,000 ex-rebels completed their training to join Sudanese security forces.
The integration of former fighters into the Sudanese army and police was part of a 2020 peace deal with rebel groups involved in decades of civil conflict, including in Darfur.
The first of its kind, the cohort “will confront the chaos in Darfur,” Daglo said.
Hundreds have been killed in recent months in Darfur, in a renewed spike of violence triggered by disputes mainly over land, livestock and access to water and grazing.