Sexual gender-based violence plagues displaced Syrian communities, with young girls quickly becoming the primary victims
By Morgan Hekking
Rabat – Sexual gender-based violence (SGBV) is a strong concern for displaced Syrians around the world, but this issue is especially heightened in host countries where economic opportunities are limited. SGBV includes psychological and emotional abuse, forced marriage, child marriage, sexual assault, and rape.
This type of violence occurs in both refugee camps and non-camp settings, and can be perpetrated by fellow refugees or natives of the host country.
According to the Jordan INGO Forum (JIF), economic pressures and stressful living conditions can trigger what psychologists refer to as negative coping mechanisms.
Within families, examples of negative coping mechanisms include using child marriage, labor, and trafficking to ameliorate financial hardships. Psychological distress can also generate sexual assault and abuse within the home, often in the form of intimate-partner violence.
Although the primary targets of SGBV in refugee communities are women and girls, men and boys are also vulnerable to sexual violence, based on UNHCR regional studies. The perpetrators of this violence are typically male family members or older boys and men from local communities, both refugee and host.
Refugee girls’ mobility in Lebanon is restricted by looming threats organization’ threats of sexual assault and harassment outside the home. In a study conducted by the humanitarian organization Plan International, Syrian girls in Beirut reported being harassed and chased by men and boys, and expressed fears of being kidnapped or raped.
In Lebanon, Syrian refugee girls are getting married and having children at a young age, according to Plan International’s research. Colin Lee, the regional program director for the Middle East says, “child marriage is on the rise because parents are so fearful for their daughters’ safety.”
The Higher Population Council’s 2017 report on child marriage in Jordan offers similar reasoning: “for families, marriage seemed the only option for their daughters to be safe and provided for, even at 14 years old.”
Early marriages amongst Syrian refugees in Jordan has been on the rise for several years, with many Syrian refugee girls getting married to older Jordanian men.
Child marriage allows many refugee families to ease financial burdens and can offer peace of mind regarding the safety of their daughters. However, this survival strategy is ultimately damaging to young refugee girls, who are forced to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of their family’s livelihood.