The Syrian mothers forcing their daughters to marry to keep them safe: “We had to take in the wedding dress to make it fit her tiny body”

“I had to tell her how to behave with her husband – that he would kiss her and she should not shudder”

The conflict in Syria has had a devastating effect on women. Crammed into camps with thousands of others, often having lost husbands and sons to the war, 150,000 families are headed by women with nobody to help them protect their daughters. In these desperate conditions, many women are turning to early marriage as a way to protect their daughters from the culture of kidnapping and rape.

Speaking to the Guardian about her family’s time in the Zaatari camp, on Syria’s border with Jordan, one woman said, “My eldest daughter, Rulla, was 13 and is attractive. The camp was full of men of different ages. I could not let my daughters go alone to the bathroom. Along the way we would be harassed by young men. Looking around I could see that families were trying to get their daughters married by any means, even if they were only 12 or 13.”

When a woman came to her tent saying she wanted Rulla to marry her 18-year-old nephew, both mother and daughter found the idea difficult to accept. “She was still a child,” she explained, “But the war, hunger, humiliation and fear forced me to accept.

“We had to take in the wedding dress to make it fit Rulla’s tiny body. I had to tell her how to behave with her husband – that he would kiss her and she should not shudder. I still ask myself every day if I was fair to Rulla.”













Another woman who told the Guardian about her decision to marry off her teenage daughter explained that she’d been raising six children alone since her husband was detained by the Syrian army two years previously. She was frightened by reports of kidnapping and rapes in Deraa, where they lived, and thought the best security would be a son-in-law.

She agreed to marry her eldest daughter, Dima, 15, to a 25-year-old man, but just days after the wedding it became clear that all was not well. They were fighting a lot, and her husband complained that Dima would cry every time he wanted to touch her. Two months later, the marriage ended in divorce. Now, bright Dima refuses to go to school – she’s ashamed to tell her friends she is divorced. The family have now fled to the Zaatari camp, and she is searching for a psychiatrist for her daughter to help her cope with her ordeal.

A third woman told of her deep regret at allowing her daughter to be married to a 38-year-old man. Following a kidnapping in their neighbourhood, the families there became convinced that marrying girls off was the best way to protect them, so when a man with money asked to marry Nour, her mum accepted. “I felt like Nour was doing a duty she neither liked nor enjoyed,” she said.

Now her mum, who had to flee to Jordan with the rest of the family, fears that he will take another wife or divorce her to have a baby – doctors have said that Nour needs “more time” before she can become pregnant. “Nour always answers my calls in tears and makes me feel so guilty for leaving her alone in Syria,” she said, “I ask myself repeatedly whether it was right to marry Nour to Adil. Every day I think about this, and every day I conclude: I was wrong.”

These stories are so full of tragedy that it’s difficult to know where to start, but each and every one of them has a clear message at its heart; forced and early marriage is a terrible practice that has devastating and lasting consequences for the girls involved, and it must stop.

Next week, Girl Summit 2014 is taking place – a summit which aims to stop forced and early marriage and FGM within a generation. For more information visit
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