Enab Baladi’s Investigations Team
In Syria … A Child Raising a Child
While his peers were spending their time preparing for the high school exams, the child Abdul Rahman became a father and welcomed his new duties with pleasure, saying “Thank God.”
Abdul Rahman Jazmati, a resident of Aleppo, got married before reaching the age 18. Today, at the age of 20, he is living with his wife and two-year-old daughter in Idlib, in addition, he is satisfied with the “logical reasons” that made him responsible, like his friends, for a family at an early age.
“Because of the Syrian revolution, there is no longer a compulsory military service, which allowed me to get married,” said Abdul Rahman to Enab Baladi, but his behavior was not justified with the “opportunity provided by the revolution” only. It was rather, from his point of view, justified with other reasons related to war, such as the concessions that the families made in what concerns material conditions to marry their daughters, and the abundance of houses with increasing migration.
All these reasons are often mentioned in areas under the control of the opposition factions, such as Idlib, where Jazmati lives, as well as the eastern Ghouta.
A “Phenomenon” in Opposition Areas
While Abdul Rahman confirmed that a good number of his friends were married under the age of 18, social affairs organizations in Syria did not give enough importance to the issue, and therefore did not provide detailed statistics on the marriages of minors.
It is also difficult to imagine accurately the extent of the phenomenon due to the absence of birth registration centers in many villages and towns under the control of the opposition factions. In addition, many married couples under the age of 20 years are reluctant to register their marriage contracts in the personal status departments, and are satisfied with just the Sharia contract.
Despite this, the personal status department in Eastern Ghouta confirms that its records indicate that the marriages of minors increased from 10% before the revolution to 30% in the post-revolution period.
The judge and the lecturer at the Faculty of Sharia in Idlib, Dr. Yassin Alloush, considered in an interview with Enab Baladi that the marriage of minors’ rate “has witnessed a slight increase due to the general conditions in the country.” He pointed out that scholars see no problem with it. On the contrary, they encourage young men and women to marry as “men who are able to get married should do so in order to avoid falling in errors.”
On the other side of Syria, and in the areas under the control of the regime, the situation is different with regard to marriage of minors, given the decline in the number of young men as a result of imposing compulsory and reserve military service on the one hand and the increasing number of male migrants compared with females on the other.
Very Young Husbands
“I work in logistics in an organization, and I have a respectful salary,” Abdul Rahman Jazmati told Enab Baladi of his current situation with a sense of confidence that stems from his ability to support his small family and provide it with life necessities.
However, this salary is not guaranteed, as in the case of an inherited profession, a fixed trade, or an academic diploma that grants him a permanent job. His current job rather depends on the future of the organization where he works, which makes supporting the family an unresolved issue.
With declining education opportunities and the provision of jobs that do not necessitate a high level of education in the areas controlled by the opposition, most of the minors have become able to earn a relatively good income, not to mention a large proportion of minors among faction fighters who earn between $ 100 and $ 200.
Accordingly, under these conditions, a 16-year-old young man, for example, feels that his living his childhood seems impossible, thus his need for marriage may turn out to be a reality, particularly with appropriate social conditions.
Abdurrahman said he is the firstborn of his parents who encouraged him to marry, and in less than a year they have become relatively young grandparents for a girl.
As for housing, Abdul Rahman did not find it difficult to provide a place where to live with his wife and child due to the “abundance of uninhabited houses”.
Children giving birth to children
As for the marriage of male minors, it should be noted that their wives are necessarily minors, too, which means that the families of the whole of Syria are made up of children only, since the age of childhood according to international standards extends to 18 years.
Physiologically, once a boy or girl reaches puberty they may be eligible for childbearing, but reproduction at this age may have negative implications for maternal health, as well as psychological consequences on parents.
This was confirmed by psychiatrist Dr. Ammar Bitar, who summarized the situation as “a child raising a child.”
“Psychological maturity is important for anyone to take care of a younger person, and to provide him with enough attention and care,” added Bitar, who is an expert on protection against violence and gender-based violence.
However, from Abdul Rahman’s point of view, who seems satisfied with his situation and considers himself as inspiring to his peers, he has not to worry about the future, or wonder whether he is ready to be a father and a husband or not.
Syrian minors in “wedlock”
The marriage of minor girls issue has been raised, in every international and local forum, as one of the thorniest issues that societies have faced for a long time. It has become a routine and sometimes a monotonous topic of discussion and the critical response to any changes in the marriage of minors has become almost non-existent.
Routine statistics have shown the high frequency of underage marriages among Syrians, especially in refugee camps, but they are no more than a natural consequence of war, poverty, and insecurity; but what about the marriage of minors, not minor girls, which is a phenomenon that has started to spread throughout the Syrian society?
Minors in wedlock.. reasons and facts
There is another contradiction in Syria which reflects societal and political divisions caused by the years of war in the country. At a time when there is still
a thirty or even forty-year-old young man, living with his parents;
on the other side of the war, young men, under the age of 20, appeared to be in charge of a wife, children, and sometimes their parents.
In the absence of official statistics about the neglected phenomenon, Enab Baladi has observed a marked increase in the rate of early marriage among males in the Syrian areas under the control of the opposition, especially in eastern Ghouta, which rose from 10% before 2011 to 30% in 2017, according to informed sources.
In Idlib, where legal marriages are absent, and residents are satisfied with sharia marriage contracts, or what is known in Syria as “matrimony contract,” statistics are completely unavailable, except for what religious scholars have noticed of the spread of minors’ marriages, although the increase is slight.
Before talking about the spread of marriages among young people under the age of 18, we should talk about several phenomena that paved the way for the spread of marriage of minors, especially in areas under the control of the Syrian opposition, and in the besieged areas where the priorities of Syrian youth were different. Marriage became the only salvation for both sexes with the lack of Education and other facilities which made marriage available.
Marriage as a result of the lack of education
Illiteracy was and still is a pretext to all the pervasive problems in societies, and in Syria in particular, where school dropouts exceeded 2 million-Syrian of school-age children, according to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Most of young people aspirations, adolescents in particular, in conflict-prone areas, were focused on looking for stability and having a family rather than building a future they see as unknown.
It is a conflict that limited the thinking of young Syrians and besieged their aspirations before their land, and changed the natural course of their lives. Thus, they abandoned school and work to secure the requirements of marriage. They decided to become parents and husbands, and assumed the responsibility thinking that the war had made them strong enough to bear its consequences through marriage.
Widad Rahal, a human rights activist in the field of youth rights, told Enab Baladi that the marriage of minors began to spread in Idlib, with a gradual acceptance of this phenomenon within a society that, as whole, is religiously motivated to encourage this marriage “to ward off evil.”
“Early marriage is an old phenomenon which has existed for a long time, but because of the crises we are witnessing, it has increased a lot,” Rahal said.
She attributed the main reason to the lack of awareness and the absence of officially recognized education in Idlib, as well as the inability of young people to attend schools and universities in areas under the control of the Syrian regime because of security prosecution which created a big void in the lives of young teens and prompted them to think about marriage.
In this vein, the issue of the different priorities of Syrian youth is highlighted and changes occurred at the level of ambitions, which have transformed from achieving the highest level of education to having a family. The situation was stimulated by the factors that have paved the way for them and have exceeded the norms and traditions of the society that accepts the marriage of underage girls and rejects the marriage of male minors.
They took up arms and then took their children in their arms
With the start of the armed conflict in Syria, reports by international human rights have gone on to warn of the phenomenon of arming Syrian children and minors and involving them in the fighting by tempting them with huge amounts of money, which exceeded the salary of an employee with a university degree in Syria.
In a report entitled “Small Hands, Heavy Burden,” which was published by UNICEF in collaboration with Save the Children organization in 2015, and which followed the phenomenon of recruiting children between the ages of 13 and 18 in armed conflicts in Syria, the organization revealed that the most fragile and vulnerable children in Syria are those who engage in armed conflicts in order to support their families and prevent poverty, in addition to the emotional motivation to defend their land and fight against oppressors.
According to the report, children and minors recruited in Syria earn a monthly income of approximately $ 400 (equivalent to 200,000 Syrian pounds).
The $ 400, or even half of it, was enough to encourage a young man under the age of 18 to marry and assume a responsibility that I think is only a material one. From their point of view, those who could take responsibility for fighting and being on the fronts at a young age would find marriage easier than carrying weapons.
Moreover, securing marriage requirements and covering the expenses of wives and children is also possible with the “attractive” salaries of armed male minors.
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the International charter that defines the civil, political, economic, and social Rights of the Child, every person under the age of 18 is considered as a child.
Religious calls to fulfill “half of the religion” (connotation for marriage)
Exactly in the opposition-controlled areas, the religious element has dominated the various aspects of civilian life. Opposition factions have resorted to imposing religious teachings under the pretext of “combating moral deterioration” to prove to the conservative Syrian society that their aim is to reform what the Syrian regime has corrupted.
As marriage is one of the most important relations the Islamic religion has called for, there have been several calls in the opposition areas by clerics who have called for the marriage of young people at an early age, if they request so, to avoid their involvement into “illegal” relations.
In this regard, the Sharia Judge and lecturer at the Faculty of Sharia at the University of Idlib, Dr. Yassin Alloush, said that clerics may play an important role in the spread of this phenomenon, by urging young men and women to marry “if it is feared that they might get into sinful deeds.”
In an interview with Enab Baladi, Alloush added: “However, marriage must be done under the conditions the Islamic religion has set, which state that the young man, as well as the young woman, have to be physically, mentally, and materially capable of carrying out the family duties.”
In order to achieve this, the clerics also called the young woman’s parents to facilitate the marriage requirements, and not to exaggerate in the amount of the dowry, especially with the loss of many Syrian young men among those who were dead, missing, detained, emigrated or joined the military service. The number of females in Syrian society increased to 65 percent of the total community categories, according to the statement of Mahmoud Marawi, the First Judge in the Sharia court in Damascus.
The natural result of this increase is the high rate of spinsterhood in Syria, which reached 75 percent, according to Marawi. This compelled young women’s parents to facilitate the conditions of marriage in order to protect their daughters from the “ghost of spinsterhood.”
As the opposition-controlled areas are besieged and suffer from shortages of basic life materials, it becomes difficult for young men to secure thousands of dollars as dowries, and living there requires them to secure these thousands of dollars to buy bread, flour, barley, and water. This pushes the bride’s parents to be more sympathetic and ask for a minimum amount of dowry.
Legal and religious facilities paved the way for the marriage of minors
Syrian law does not contradict with the dictates of the Islamic religion regarding the marriage of female and male minors, especially that, concerning the marriage matter in particular, the Syrian Personal Status Law is based on Sharia provisions that are derived from the Quran and Sunnah, with some slight differences.
Contradiction in the law concerning early marriage
Although the Syrian Personal Status Law is based on Sharia provisions, it has enacted some articles that differ with what is stated by Sharia, especially in determining the appropriate age of marriage among both genders.
Article (16) of the Syrian Personal Status Law, issued in 1950, stipulates that young men have to reach 18 years old to be legally eligible to get married. As for young women, they have to reach 17 years old.
Legal eligibility means the age at which a young man or woman can start carrying out legal works and acts on their own. They are not eligible to carry out legal acts, which are called “carrying out eligibility,” until they reach the law-specified age.
As the Sharia Court in Syria does not accept the marriage of a girl except in the presence of her guardian, even if she reaches the age of eligibility. The Sharia judge allows the marriage of the girl regardless of her age, even if she were a minor. He only gets her and her parent’s consents, according to what a female lawyer in Damascus stated to Enab Baladi.
In case of absence of the young woman’s guardians, the judge is eligible to allow her marriage in application of the jurisprudential rule, which considers the judge as a guardian of those who do not have a parent in case he believes that the minor is eligible for marriage.
However, the Sharia judge does not allow the marriage of a young man until he reaches the age of 18, because he cannot fulfill the family’s legal responsibilities, including the obtention of a family register, although the female lawyer confirmed that there are cases in which young men under the age of 18 are married, in the presence of his custodian.
Article (18) of the Syrian Personal Status Law states that if the adolescent claims to have reached puberty after the age of 15, or if the girl claims so after the age of 13, and they request to get married, the judge authorizes them to do so after investigating the validity of their claim and their physical ability to get married, and with the consent of both of their custodians.
As far as the conditions of marital adequacy is concerned, the Syrian law enacted Article No. 19 which states that “the conditions of marital adequacy include the adequacy between both ages, if the ages of the two people to be married are not adequate, and there is no advantage in this marriage, the judge does not authorize it.”
In Sharia, marriage at an early age is permitted… But…
Sharia looks at marriage at an early age from a perspective that differs from human rights and legal calls that reject the idea of marriage of minors. According to Yassin Alloush, a Doctor in Islamic Law, marriage at an early is permitted, whether for males or females, because Islam takes this matter from the perspective of the “public interests” of people which vary from era to era and from place to place.
In his interview with Enab Baladi, Dr. Alloush continued “this means that the interest of a young man or woman might require him to marry at an early age for special circumstances surrounding him.”
However, Dr. Alloush considered that the fact that this is permitted in the Sharia does not mean it is obligatory. Islamic scholars have even divided the Sharia rulings of marriage into three categories. First, marriage at an early age may be obligatory for those who know that they might get into forbidden deeds and have the ability and capacity to get married.
The second is that marriage at an early age may be “haram” (sinful) in the case of someone who is sure that the wife will be oppressed for his poverty or bad manners. The third is that marriage at an early age may be “Mustahabb” (recommended, favored or virtuous action) if the person is not sure that he will get into forbidden deeds, but he is afraid of doing so, according to what Dr. Alloush explained.
Those who request marriage at an early age usually state the Prophet’s Hadith, which says: “O young men, whoever among you can afford it (Istataa’ Al Ba’a), let him get married, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and guarding chastity, and whoever cannot then he should fast, for it will be a restraint (wija’) for him.”
According to Dr. Alloush, “Al Ba’a” here means the ability to get married in all kinds, material, physical, even psychological, and mental. He added: “We can drop this general rule on the marriage of young men and women at an early age.”
Thus, the Sharia law rule is decisive on the marriage of minors, provided that the aforementioned conditions are met; otherwise, the marriage is “haram” in Sharia.
According to Dr. Alloush, if not carefully considered, marriage at an early age would end in failure and divorce. He concluded by saying: “This is what we have really seen while working in the Islamic courts.” He pointed out to the lack of precise official statistics of the percentage of young men and women who got married under the legal age, during the past seven years.
Nevertheless, Dr. Alloush considered that the current “time of afflictions” is what pushes young men to ask for marriage. He said: “In this time, especially after the Internet became accessible to all people, young people have not found any solution to falling into bad deeds except in marriage.”
He continued: “There is no doubt that this is comprehensible, but under regulations and conditions the Islam has set which state that the young man, as well as the young woman, have to be physically, materially, mentally, and psychologically capable of bearing the family burdens.”
Marriage of minors from the point of view of medicine
“Lack of maturity” is a major cause of problems
The talk about “marriage at an early age” or “ideal marriage” is related to the social situation or the era during which it is set up. The marriage of the 15-year-old girl seems wrong nowadays. However, it was common and desirable 100 years ago in the Arab region, for example.
At that time too, the 17-year-old young man had not been considered as a boy or a child. He was treated as a man and it was sought to find a suitable wife for him.
With societies’ progress and education’s link to a time-bound school chain and an extendable university period, marriage at an early age became synonymous with leaving education and the increase of the percentages of uneducated people, even though they were not “illiterate.”
However, this social controversy can be solved by medicine, looking back at the minors’ physiological eligibility for marriage.
Dr. Zahra Bitar, a gynecologist, believes that as soon as a young man reaches puberty he is capable of completing the sexual intercourse without having negative effects on his or her health.
This matter seems to have more side effects on a female’s health. Bitar points out that young girls may suffer from negative consequences as a result of marriage, such as bleeding and rupture.
As for the pregnancy of the young girl, this leads to birth obstructions, and the high possibility of the need for a cesarean section as well as the birth of underdeveloped fetuses, according to Bitar.
According to a UNICEF study entitled “Protecting Children from Violence, Exploitation and Abuse”, puerperal infection deaths associated with pregnancy and childbirth constitute an important factor in the deaths of girls aged 15-19 worldwide, causing 70,000 annual deaths.
The study also suggests that the baby may also be at high risk if his or her mother is under 19 years of age, being more vulnerable to low birth weight, malnutrition, and delayed physical as well as cognitive development.
This matter’s medical implications are not limited to the physiological ability of the female or male minor to get married, or to the fetus’ health, but they include the psychological implications of this type of marriage, which raises the concern of child-oriented international organizations.
According to Dr. Zahra Bitar, the marriage of a young man under the age of 18, often means an “immature” choice of the partner, and the inability to assume the economic responsibility of the new family, which might get him in trouble.
In addition, “the lack of maturity over the sexual intercourse sometimes results in lifelong negative psychological effects.”
Bitar added that, in many cases, marriage of young people at an early age means the deprivation of education opportunities and may lead to an increase in divorce cases “because of the escape of young male minors from marriage as a result of increased family burdens and their choice of divorce due to a lack of awareness of its consequences.”
The same thing applies to young girls who often marry men who are many years older than them, making them overwhelmed by psychological crises related to the difficulty of communicating with the husband, physiological differences, differences of interests and ways of thinking.
According to a study conducted by World Health Organization (WHO) y, girls who marry at a young age are more likely to be exposed to violence and sexual abuse from their partners compared to those who marry at an older age.
The same study considers that the marriage of underage girls is a “violation” of their rights, as it completely ends their education and blocks any opportunity for them to acquire professional and life skills.
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