The 12-year-old Meriam went back heartbroken to her family's home eight months after her marriage, after her husband died during battles in the west of Aleppo. She then remarried in the same year under her family’s pressure.
The war Syria has long been witnessing is a major factor in increasing the rates of underage marriages among Syrian girls. These marriages have become a testimony of a long process of violations against the Syrian woman, especially the female refugees.
Meriam's 17-year-old sister, Fatima (pseudonym), told Rozana the story of her sister's marriage: "My family fled from Aleppo to the town of Atarib because of the bombings. My neighbours liked my sister and asked her to marry their 25-year-old son. Months after their marriage, she was shocked by the news of her husband’s death."
"After the death of my brother-in-law, my family married her off again, but with my cousin this time," said Fatima, a mother of two children, who herself was married at the age of 13 because of war and displacement.
Love... A factor that prompts parents to marry their daughter off!
Syrian-Jordanian psychologist and educator Razan Obaid told Rozana that the refugees are always concerned about their children, especially females, because of the cultural differences in the countries of asylum. She added that "the financial pressure" associated with asylum conditions is one of the most important reasons for parents to marry their daughters off in order to alleviate the financial burdens.
The Syrian social culture, especially in rural areas, dictating the young man’s permanent work with his father, in a way that enables him to establish a family at a relatively young age compared to young men in urban areas, also contributes to the increase of the rates of underage marriages among Syrian females, according to Obaid.
The story of Laila, who lives in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, is not different from that of many of her Syrian peers who were forced to get married at an early age due to very harsh conditions and social customs. She got married at the age of 13 with a man 10 years older than her in a marriage that lasted for only one year.
Laila, who divorced her husband after having a child, told Rozana that she does not know the real reasons behind their divorce, but her divorcee had repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with her behaviours. He also left for Syria without telling her for fear that she would submit a lawsuit against him to the Turkish authorities because she was a minor, as she put it.
Aseel, a 25-year-old instructor in Gaziantep, told Radio Rozana that "parents sometimes marry their daughters off to get rid of their burden, and the burden of taking care of them, for fear of young man at their adolescence age."
Aseel added: "Parents marry their daughter off to the young man she loves at school for fear of any of her reckless behaviours like escaping with her lover for example." She explained: "The eternal reason for underage marriage is poverty, which pushes parents to marry their daughters off or sell them for a sum of money through getting them involved into the institution of marriage."
An underage girl cannot be a mother or a wife
As far as the "psychological state" of underage girls is concerned, psychologist Obaid said that establishing family requires psychological maturity, accompanied with physical and "physiological" development as well as knowledge and personality development at an appropriate age.
Obaid wondered how a female child who is still interested in playing and entertainment, and her body is not yet mature, could establish a family and become responsible for children while she is still in need of someone who takes care of her and teaches her the appropriate life skills, as she put it.
Obaid explained: "The young female will find herself under the pressure of a responsibility she was not prepared for, which will turn her into a nervous and ill-behaving woman with her husband or children. This will result in an unhealthy family."
According to Obaid, the rate of underage marriage among Syrian girls in Jordan at the beginning of the Syrian revolution was higher than in the current one. This decrease was the outcome of intensive awareness campaigns. She pointed out that 18 is the legal age of marriage in Jordan.
Turkish law criminalizes the marriage of minors
Hussam Sarhan, lawyer and member of the Board of Directors of the Syrian Bar Association in Turkey told Rozana that Turkish law set 18 as the age of legal marriage for males and females, leaving room for accepting marriage registration of minor females but within specific restrictions.
Sarhan summarized these restrictions dictated by the Turkish law by allowing marriage to females who have reached the age of 17 under the condition of consent of one of the parents, and for those who have completed 16 and have not reached 17, provided that both parents agree and the judge determines whether the minor is able to handle the exigencies of marriage or not.
In the case of marriage of a female under the age of 18 without meeting the previous conditions, the Turkish law considers this marriage as an act of sexual assault exerted on a minor, which exposes the perpetrator to the penalty of imprisonment from 3 to 20 years.
In Turkey, all those who contributed to the marriage of a minor are penalized
Sarhan pointed to the popularity of common-law marriage, that is, marriage outside the framework of Turkish law, and outside the organization managing marriage contracts, namely the marriage license office within the Syrian community in Turkey. According to Sarhan, marriages are legalized through a lawyer or a sheikh, stressing that Turkey punishes the contract writer, witnesses, the guardian and the husband, in case of violating the regulations. Such punishment may be up to six months of imprisonment.
In June, a Turkish criminal court sentenced a 27-year-old man in Adana to 19 years and nine months in prison for sexually assaulting children and detaining a person against her will for marrying a 14-year-old girl.
Pregnancy often reveals cases of underage marriage
Most of the time, the Turkish government discovers lawbreakers and common-law marriages when a child is born in a private or public hospital, by means of the wife's identification papers, which show that the mother is under 18.
Sarhan said, describing a real incident with similar details, that parents expose the child to the risk of being taken under the custody of competent authorities, and not to be handed over to the mother, but to the husband's or wife's families or to anyone proving kinship instead.
Free Syrian Lawyers Association held regular meetings during which they warned the Syrians to abide by Turkish laws and to respect them.
Diseases and defects affecting the mother and fetus caused by early marriage
For his part, the Syrian doctor Mustafa Lulk confirms that early marriage causes many physical diseases and symptoms, including anemia, uterine disorders, high abortion rates, poor development, or death of the fetus.
The doctor attributed the reasons for this, in an interview with Rozana, for "incomplete development of the mother’s uterus," noting that natural pregnancy "occurs after the age of 18".
Lulk stressed that the lack of recourse by the minor to review public hospitals stems from her fear of legal prosecution. Thus, the pregnant woman is forced to receive health care and operations in unlicensed clinics, which do not provide the necessary check upobservation and care for the mother and fetus, before and after birth.
A child born to a minor mother in unlicensed private clinics may be deprived of access to basic immunization and be protected against disease.
Article 16 of the Syrian Law of Personal Status states that, "the eligibility of marriage shall be completed at the age of 18 for men and 17 for women, while article 18 of the same Act provides for exceptions in which marriages of younger persons are permitted under specific conditions.
It is noteworthy that the majority of marriages that took place after 2011, especially outside Syria, have not been documented in the Syrian Sharia courts, especially since embassies of the Syrian regime, notably in countries where large numbers of Syrians live , like Turkey, do not have the authority to complete marriage contracts.
On June 10, Law No. 24 was enacted in Syria, which amended the Penal Code and stressed the penalty of engaging in a marriage contract outside the official framework that must be held in the Sharia Court. The sentence was also extended to reach not only the spouses but also the witnesses of the marriage.
Judicial sources earlier told Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the Syrian regime, that 70 percent of Syrians marry customarily, that is outside the court, before legalizing the marriage in the competent court.
The law states that any person who finalizes a minor’s marriage outside the competent court and without the consent of the guardian shall be punished by imprisonment of one to six months and a fine of 50 to 100 thousand Syrian Pounds. Nonetheless, in case of holding a minor marriage outside the court with the consent of the guardian, a fine of 25 to 50 thousand Syrian Pounds is to be imposed.