Fariha was married when she was just 15 years old. She was living in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp having fled the fighting in Syria. She says,
“Our life was very hard we had no money and we depended on the NGOs to give us food and coupons to buy groceries and essential stuff.
“When I just turned 15 years old, I got married. Because we were alone my mother decided it’s better for me to marry so someone can take care of me.”
Child marriages are steadily increasing amongst Syrian refugees, and it is reported that 35% of Syrian refugee girls are married before the age of 18. For many families they believe marriage will increase security for their daughter and their family, or they hope it will be an escape from extreme financial hardships. Yet the reality is that early marriage is linked to high risks of early pregnancy, mental health issues, increased risks of domestic violence, lack of employment and low education attainment.
Now 20, she is returning to her education with Relief International’s support in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. This is her story.
“My life was super normal before the crises started in Syria, I was planning to continue my education. I graduated 6thgrade and I was supposed to start traveling to the nearby village to start 7th grade but in the same year the crisis emerged in Syria in 2011 and travelling to school became too dangerous.
“As the situation became worse my family decided we had to leave and we decided to flee to Jordan. We made it to Za’atari camp, and in those early years we all lived in small caravans and tents. It was just lots of tents everywhere and some caravans, desert everywhere and people usually didn’t leave there tents at the beginning – we would just go to collect food and other things they would give us like mattresses, kitchen utensils and blankets and return home.
“It was just my mother with me, my younger brother and two sisters. We heard that there were schools we could go to, but our mother was worried that something might happen to us if we left the house, so we didn’t go to school. Mum was worried and scared all the time and feeling paranoid that people might do something to us, so we stayed in the caravan all the time. I remember I really wanted to go to school but mum didn’t allow me.
“Our life was very hard. My mother became really depressed and I remember days went by without us even knowing which day it is or what time it was, we would just sit in the caravan and sleep.
“Mum thought it would be best if I got married. I told her that I didn’t want to marry at first, but in the end I agreed and got married. It was awful because he was my uncle’s son so I couldn’t accept him I felt like he is my brother, and I couldn’t see him as my husband.
“I only stayed married for three months and went back to mother’s house. My mother agreed that I didn’t need to go back to him and that I could stay with her because she saw how miserable I was at the time.
“Then I got married again when I was 17 years old and now have two children. When my daughter was two months old, an outreach team from RI approached our house and told us about the Early Childhood Development center.”
In 2018, Relief International opened Early Childhood Development Centers in Jordan’s Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps. These early learning centers offer safe spaces for nearly 300 children, ages 0 to four and a half years. Unlike most other centers, the centers accept children from birth to ensure their mothers and caretakers can resume their education or work responsibilities as soon as possible. The education program for mums is especially tailored to help them catch up on years of missed classes, and eventually graduate the 10th grade and plan for their future.
Fariha says, “I took my daughter to the center and they told me that you also can register and continue your education while we take care of your baby in the same center. I went home and told my husband, and he didn’t mind me going back to school, so I went the next day and registered. I was so happy to go back to school. I’ve met friends here and I’m having a lot of fun, and my favorite subject is Arabic.
“Going back to education gives me great hope that I can be educated and the thought that my girls are here with me in a safe space makes me very calm. I can go see them between breaks and breastfeed them when they need me. But it isn’t easy. The center is a long way from home, and it is a great struggle sometimes and I miss classes.
“When I imagined my future as a child when I was in Syria it was very different to what has happened. If Syria was the same as before the crises, I think I would have continued my education and I wouldn’t have married until I was older and more mature.
“I really don’t want to be like the rest of women and just stay home, cleaning and cooking I would love to be different. You know my dream is to be a nurse because I like helping people, but to be honest I think it’s not going to happen because I am a mother now and we won’t have money for me to go to university.
“My psychological state improved so much from coming back to school. When I am here, I go home I feel accomplished and happy, I love learning. Soon I will graduate from the program and get my 10th grade certificate. It gives me hope and maybe my girls will have a better future than I did.”
*Name changed to protect identity
 UNFPA. New study finds child marriage rising among most vulnerable Syrian refugees [Internet]. UNFPA 2017 [cited 2019 Jan 08]. Available from: http:// www.unfpa.org/news/new-study-finds-child-marriage -rising-among-most-vulnerable-syrian-refugees
 Child marriage of female Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon: a literature review R. El Araba and M. Sagbakkenb GLOBAL HEALTH ACTION