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Syrian refugees marrying young teenagers
02:37 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Syria refugee crisis has led to growing phenomenon: marriages for protection

Various stories of sexual harassment and rape in one camp in Jordan

Families unable to safeguard daughters marry them off to protect them

Syria's neighbours like Jordan can't handle the influx of refugee

CNN  — 

Feet stumbling in the pitch darkness over the uneven ground we make our way with a group of women to one of the bathrooms in the Zaatari camp.

“There is no light, if we come in here there could be a guy hiding or something.” one woman says.

None of them want to be identified. They carry fear of the regime with them, even as they seek refuge across the border in Jordan.

But “safety” is a relative term. For Syria’s female refugee population, it has meant trading fear of death in their homeland for fear of something many consider to be worse: rape.

There have been various stories of sexual harassment and rape in Zaatari camp – teeming with masses who continue to stream across the border.

This dark underbelly of crisis has led to a disturbing growing phenomenon: “sutra” marriages, or marriages for protection.

Families who feel like they are unable to safeguard their female family members, their daughters, are marrying them off to protect them.

In a culture where conserving honor is central, everyone says they had no other choice.

In one trailer we meet 13-year-old Najwa. She curls back in the corner next to her husband, 19-year-old Khaled, and her mother, hardly saying a word.

Najwa is the youngest of three, her two older sisters in their late teens are also recently married.

“I swear I wasn’t able to sleep, I was afraid for the girls.” Her mother tells us. “I swear to God, I would not have let her get married this young if we were still in Syria.”

“There were rapes,” Khaled adds.

We approach the culturally delicate subject of sex with a vaguely worded question about the age difference and plans for children.

“It’s okay, I do not want children now,” Khaled says. “I will make it up to her, I will make up for not having a (wedding) party.”

Ruwaida dresses brides inside Zaatari – a business she had back home in Syria. She says that marriage at 13 was rare in Syria, but here she sees it more and more frequently.

Across the board, even for what should be a joyous occasion there is always sorrow. When the brides are children themselves, it’s even worse.

“I feel like I have a child between my hands and she is having to take on a responsibility bigger than she is.” Ruwaida says. “I feel like her life is over, her life is ending early.”

The same fears exist for those families living outside the camp. On a tour with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) we meet 14-year-old Eman. She has such a sweet young face, flushed with exhaustion as she cradles her baby.

“I wouldn’t have gotten married, it’s because of the situation.” She speaks softly, her eyes filled with regret and pain well beyond her years.

“I told my son not to consummate the marriage, but he didn’t listen,” her mother-in-law whispers.

She too was wed for protection.