There are many institutions that have been affected by the war in Syria. By institutions, we do not necessarily mean services provided by the regime or its educational, judicial, health and other bodies but rather social institutions such as marriage, family and religion. These have witnessed significant changes in the previous years that will require years of research, study and documentation.
Although there is no evidence that the institution of marriage has been the most affected by the war out of all those mentioned above, it may be the institution that has been most obviously affected in a way that can be measured. This is evident from the fluctuation between increasing demand for marriage and reluctance to marry, and the easing of conditions for marriage in the first years of the revolution followed by the imposition of impossible conditions, in addition to the spread of divorce, polygamy, underage marriage, and the endless rise of spinsterhood, in which murder, arrests, conscription and displacement have been leading key factors.
“This is yet another bride whose family refuses to marry off. Can you imagine that even though we live in a country filled with women, I still haven’t been able to find a bride for my brother?!”, Umm Walid declares impatiently after hearing the news that another bride has refused to marry. She added, “He is 35 years old now. At his age my father, God bless his soul, already had his eldest son in school.”
Umm Walid, a 45-year-old resident of Rif Dimashq in Damascus, has been looking for a bride for her brother for more than a year but she has not yet succeeded in finding a “decent girl” or “bint al-halal” as she put it. She went on to explain the reason behind the difficulties she has been facing during her search, “The problem is that my brother is in Germany. He has no one else to find him a wife among the Syrian refugees there, so he asked me to look for one here in my neighborhood.”
If I were in Harasta
At first, Umm Walid thought that her brother being in Germany would work in his favor in finding a bride, “Is there a girl who does not want an opportunity to leave this difficult life and go to Europe?”. However, the reality surprised her. She says, “Lately, being in Europe is no longer considered an advantage. Instead, it has become a reason for parents to fear for their daughters. Their image of Europe is no longer as perfect as it was before the media coverage of murders, suicides, religious conversions and the mistreatment of refugees and racism against them. Many mothers I met during my search expressed these fears directly. Despite the fact that young men in Syria have become a minority compared to the number of girls, most parents do not want to send their daughter to an unknown fate, which contributes to the increase in the rates of spinsterhood among young men and women.”
Being a displaced person is another factor that made it hard for her to find a girl for her brother. She says, “If I were in Harasta, I would have found a bride for my brother in half the time. Our contacts and relatives are so many that I can visit two or three houses a day. But here I’m a stranger and no one knows the young man or his background. Frankly, not many people are ready to welcome a displaced woman who is asking for the hand of their daughter, so I can barely manage to get the addresses of two or three families per month.”
A European wife
In contrast to Umm Walid and her brother, Majid, a 32-year-old Syrian refugee living in Sweden, refuses to marry a young Syrian woman, whether resident in Syria or Europe. He justifies this by saying that “spinsterhood existed before the revolution due to expensive dowries and poor economic conditions. On his wedding day, the groom will already be burdened with debts, which will weigh him down for many years to come. But these costs became unbearable due to the conditions after the revolution. How could a young man who lost his education and job and who fled from his country in order to save himself pay an unlimited dowry upwards of 5000 dollars? Most of my friends have married European girls and they are happy with their marriages. They guaranteed residence and citizenship without huge expenses and dowries, costs of ceremonies and clothing. Does marriage need all these things?”
Majid added another reason for his reluctance to marry a Syrian, “I fear that the young woman would use my proposal as a way to reach Europe since this is phenomenon has become widespread. After the man proposes and works hard to bring his bride to Europe and pays the expenses associated with marriage, he is surprised when she leaves him to pursue her own desires and live her life. So how can I ensure that I will not fall into the same trap?”
My mother and father
Bayan and Alaa meet up weekly with four of their friends at a house in Damascus. Despite their different ages, academic studies and jobs, the common denominator is that they are all single. Each of them has her own reason. Bayan, a 31 year-old electrical engineer says, “I could say like everyone else that I haven’t been offered a suitable person but I would be lying if I said that. Frankly, the main reason is that my parents are old so they depend on me completely, which is difficult for any husband to accept, no matter how understanding he is. Will he accept that I need to stay in their home to monitor their health, accompany them to the doctor, give them their medicine and do all the grocery shopping? I have no younger brother to do all this and my sisters are married and have moved outside Syria, so I decided to stay with my parents given their age and the bad conditions in the country, whatever the consequences of this decision might be.”
Release the detainees
Alaa, a 29 year-old Arab Literature graduate, says sarcastically about the current situation, “Why are there any young men left in the country?” She told us her story. “I was engaged to my cousin after graduating from university but he traveled to Europe after the revolution. He tried hard to bring me over so we could be together but his requests were rejected again and again. After many failed attempts and the insistence of his mother, we broke off our engagement and he got engaged to a Syrian girl where he lives.”
She is upset over the years she lost in the relationship with her cousin but she says, “Thank God. If you consider the situation of other people and their stories, you find that you’re blessed. At least I was waiting for someone I could see. My friend is still waiting for her fiancé who was in prison. Four and a half years after his arrest, she is still waiting. The police arrested him one month before his wedding. A lot of rumors went around saying that he had been killed/martyred in prison but she is still waiting.”
Alaa is overwhelmed with emotion and remains silent for a second. Then, she continues, “The regime is responsible for all the crises we are living through in this country. It is the one that displaced, recruited, arrested and murdered young men. If the regime wanted to solve the spinsterhood crisis, it would release prisoners or make it easier for young men to move around the country instead of the Sharia judge of Damascus calling on men to marry a second wife. Al- Assad’s regime was and still is the enemy of young people.”
Marriage in Numbers
The first Sharia judge of Damascus, Mahmoud al-Maarawi, declared that the number of females has increased during the past five years by more than 65%.
The rate of spinsterhood among females in Syria is estimated at 70%, one of the highest in the Arab world.
Al-Maarawi pointed out that more than 50% of marriage contracts are made or authenticated by agencies outside Syria, which indicates that emigration is increasing.
According to marriages registered in Damascus’ Sharia courts, the rate of polygamous marriages in 2015 was around 30% compared to 5% in 2010.
In an interview with Tishreen newspaper, the Dean of the Higher Institute for Demographic Studies and Research in Syria stated that there has been a gradual increase in the age of marriage for both sexes, “The average age of females is 25 years at the time of marriage and 30 years for males.”
Divorce in Syria has increased by 25% according to the records of the Damascus Sharia Court.
According to al-Maarawi, the number of marriage transactions involving minors in Damascus represents between 10% and 15% of marriages, which means that it has doubled since the beginning of the revolution.