Child brides: A rising phenomenon in Ras al-Ain
Enab Baladi – Ras al-Ain
Sawsan was married at the age of 14 under the pretext of “protection,” as her father forced her to marry her cousin, and she was unable to refuse due to the societal and tribal pressures on her since she lives in the tribally-natured Ras al-Ain.
Sawsan al-Subhi (currently 16 years old) clarified that she was in eighth grade when she got married, which forced her to quit school. She indicated that she had two miscarriages and suffered from internal bleeding due to her physical weakness.
Sawsan is one of the dozens of minors who fall victim to circumstances, being forced into early marriage in the city of Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah, where the cases of underage marriages have risen, becoming a phenomenon in the city which has a population of 115,000.
Statistics obtained by Enab Baladi from the Social Service Center in the Ras al-Ain local council show that more than 70% of the city’s girls are married before the age of 18. The reasons are many, most notably poverty, displacement, and the customs and traditions that exist within a large segment of society.
Traditions and social pressures
Ras al-Ain carries a tribal character like most areas in the Syrian Jazira region, where social customs and traditions strongly impose themselves among the residents. The majority of the inhabitants are engaged in agriculture, livestock breeding, or daily work, earning no more than 30,000 Syrian pounds per day (about two US dollars).
Sarah Zuhair al-Din narrated the details of her early marriage at the age of 15, due to pressures exerted on her by her brothers to marry her cousin due to the customs and traditions in her family and social environment, and her family’s poor financial situation. She explained that her cousin was 20 years older than her.
Sarah told Enab Baladi that her marriage did not last more than six months, as her husband divorced her, accusing her of neglecting her domestic duties, as well as abusing her.
Sarah (currently 17 years old) added that she filed a complaint against him in court and is awaiting the final result, pointing out that her marriage was a result of the pressures of the tribe and the customs and traditions that impose early marriage on girls, especially if the groom belongs to the same tribe and is financially well-off.
For her part, Manar al-Marai, a women’s rights activist in Ras al-Ain, stated that early marriage is considered one of the most common violations of human rights in the eastern region, as it threatens women’s lives and deprives them of education and community participation, making them more prone to violence and mistreatment.
Al-Marai added that there are many reasons for this phenomenon, the most prominent of which are extreme poverty, and the social factor that compels the father to marry off his daughter to “preserve her chastity,” in his opinion, and out of fear of her being “tarnished”.
She pointed out that early marriage is often accompanied by early pregnancy and childbirth, putting the life of the mother and fetus at greater risk.
Al-Marai sees that the best solutions are to raise awareness to realize the seriousness of this phenomenon and to launch intensive awareness campaigns that include all categories.
A 70% increase, Health and legal problems
The Syrian Interim Government (SIG) has controlled Ras al-Ain since 2019, and marriage contracts are officially recorded without a specified age, or even informally through sheikhs outside the courts.
The director of social services at the local council in Ras al-Ain, Intisar Douda, stated that underage marriage is a social problem that is exacerbating in the city due to customs, traditions, poverty, and gender inequality, in addition to marrying girls off to obtain inheritance.
She explained that cases of underage marriage increased by 70% during the year 2023, posing a danger to the health and future of the girls, noting that the social service directorate is working to find solutions to this problem by encouraging girls to study, holding rehabilitation and awareness courses to educate women about their rights and duties.
In turn, lawyer Farhan As-Saadoun, from Ras al-Ain, described underage marriage as a serious social and legal phenomenon in the region, emphasizing the need for all relevant parties to cooperate to combat it.
As-Saadoun told Enab Baladi that the authorities must deal with this phenomenon decisively, adding that the Syrian law criminalizes underage marriage. The personal status law stipulates that the legal age for marriage is 18 years for both males and females after it was amended several times by the Syrian government.
As-Saadoun demanded the strict application of the law by holding accountable those responsible for marrying off underage girls and providing legal and psychological support to girls married at an early age.
Meanwhile, Dr. Qais Hussein, a consultant in obstetrics and gynecology, indicated that early marriage for girls under the age of 20 leads to serious health risks, including malnutrition, weight loss after childbirth, delayed physical and mental growth, menstrual disorders, delayed pregnancy, and an increased risk of reproductive diseases and infections such as vaginal and uterine inflammations, as well as an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
Hussein explained that early marriage of girls leads to incomplete physical and mental development, making them more susceptible to these diseases and disorders.
He added that young girls do not have a robust body capable of sustaining pregnancy and childbirth, which leads to malnutrition, weight loss after childbirth, delayed physical growth compared to their peers, menstrual disorders, and delayed pregnancy.
Underage girls who become pregnant face a vortex of problems linked to their unreadiness to absorb such responsibility and their incomplete developmental stages, both mentally and physically, according to a study by the lawyer and researcher at the Harmoon Center for Contemporary Studies, Massa al-Mosuli.
Early marriage leads to the loss of rights for underage girls, especially in cases of unregistered marriages, in addition to the possibility of resulting in unregistered children, according to the study.
A report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) indicates that underage marriage is associated with many health problems that can lead to death in some cases.
According to the report, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death among adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 in developing countries.
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