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[16days_discussion] Syrian refugees struggle to protect daughters from exploitation

16 Days Campaign 16days at
Mon Aug 12 12:35:57 EDT 2013

      Syrian refugees struggle to protect daughters from exploitation

Hillary Margolis
Published in:
Global Post 
August 7, 2013

When I met them in early June, Abu Nizar, his wife and their three 
daughters --- aged 22, 18 and 14 --- were perched on threadbare 
mattresses in a rundown house in Ramtha, Jordan 
<>, where they 
survive on charity from the local community. Blankets covered the 
windows to keep out the mid-afternoon heat. Inside, a musty darkness 

Abu Nazir pays almost 300 Jordanian dinars per month --- nearly $424 --- 
for rent and utilities. Alone, he and his wife could rent a room for 70 
dinars. He said to me, only half-joking, "Of course my daughters need to 
get married --- it will lift the burden off of me!"

A doctor from Dubai asked to marry Abu Nizar's 22-year-old daughter, 
Rima, and he seriously considered the proposal. "He's related to people 
who live upstairs. He's a doctor, he has studied," Abu Nizar told me.

Ultimately, Abu Nizar refused the offer. With her identity documents 
left behind during their flight from Syria, Rima would not be granted 
the passport and authorization to accompany her new husband to Dubai, 
leaving her vulnerable to becoming a so-called "pleasure" wife, 
abandoned after a short stint of marriage.

"A lot of women ask us here in Jordan if we want to marry our 
daughters," Abu Nizar said. "We say no because we can't guarantee her 
rights here."

The focus on Syrian refugee women and girls has largely centered on 
accounts of forced and early marriage as a coping mechanism. Yet during 
investigative missions to Lebanon 
<> and Jordan 
by Human Rights Watch in March and June, I found that many Syrian 
families remain determined to protect their daughters from violence and 

While there are some reported cases of early or forced marriage, we have 
not found evidence that marriage patterns differ substantially from 
those in pre-conflict Syria. However, inadequate international 
assistance and the threat of ongoing poverty could eventually lead 
refugees to desperate measures, including exploitative marriages.

In early July, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that over 1.7 
million registered Syrian refugees are living in neighboring countries; 
more than three quarters are women and children. UNHCR estimates that 
urban and rural host communities --- rather than camps --- house 77 
percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq 
<> and Turkey 

Refugee sites I visited are overcrowded, lack resources and are 
underserved. The expanding refugee population is straining already 
scarce water, food, housing and employment in receiving countries, 
causing rising tensions with host communities.

Refugees reported apprehension about seeking assistance from local 
police and security forces, some of whom, they believe, may be corrupt, 
abusive or unwilling to help. Scant support for generating income or 
rent and insufficient humanitarian assistance are creating heightened 
desperation as refugees seek to sustain their families and escape 
long-term dependence.

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable. Aid agencies say reports of 
domestic violence have increased since the refugee crisis began, a 
common outcome amid the stress, disruption and idleness of refugee 
settings and poor access to resources and services for women and girls. 
Social constraints and fear limit their mobility, restricting their 
access to income-generating activities or health and other critical 

Whether based in fact or rumor, refugees' belief that women and girls 
face danger outside the home creates a very real barrier to using 
facilities, from clinics and schools to latrines. Yasmin, in her 
thirties and living in Jordan's Zaatari camp, said: "We make a bathroom 
in our tent to use at night." A new UN Women assessment says that male 
relatives restrict women's movement in Jordan's urban refugee areas to 
protect them from harm.

In interviews in Lebanon and Jordan, aid agencies and refugees confirmed 
that refugees remain largely unaware of available services, especially 
outside of camps. Services are often out of easy reach, and women must 
secure transportation or child care to use them.

Aliyah, 20, described trying to register for humanitarian aid when I met 
her in Beirut in March: "I would have to go [to UNHCR] all day, take the 
children with me, wait three months for an interview. That's what 
happened to my sister-in-law." Aliyah said the cost of a shared taxi 
prohibited her from going to the local branch of an international 
non-governmental organization to seek assistance.

The inability to sustain a household and access key resources makes 
women --- in particular, those who head households --- vulnerable to 
high-risk situations, including exploitative work or housing 
arrangements, dependence on others for food and other necessities, and 
early or forced marriage.

The international community needs to bolster protection for displaced 
women and girls by increasing their economic well being and developing 
and improving access to services.

Women need rent subsidies in non-camp settings, opportunities to 
increase their skills, cash for work assistance programs, and 
income-generating activities. Ensuring greater access to services 
requires not only outreach to increase awareness, but also creative 
solutions such as programs that meet multiple needs in one location, 
mobile services, transportation and child care, and group assistance for 
safety and security.

To respond to the many needs of women and girls, United Nations member 
states and other donors should fund the $2 billion-plus gap that remains 
in response to the United Nations appeal for Syrian refugee response.

Donor countries that value rights for Syria's women and girls should 
ensure that this includes significant investment in concrete measures to 
reduce their vulnerability.

The 16 Days Team
16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign
Center for Women's Global Leadership
School of Arts and Sciences
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
160 Ryders Lane
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8555
Tel: 1-848-932-8782
Fax: 1-732-932-1180
Skype: cwgl_16days
Email: 16days at

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