CARE information volunteers help tackle child marriage

Motaz* talking with Hayat* (centre) and Shereen* (right) who are both working with CARE as Information Volunteers on social issues affecting Syrian refugees in Turkey [*all names have been changed]

Motaz [name changed*] sits in a circle of Syrian refugees leading a conversation about issues facing the refugees who have fled to Turkey from nearby Kobane in northern Syria. The group are all part of CARE’s new Information Volunteer programme which provides psychosocial support to Syrian refugees on a range of diverse and sometimes sensitive topics – including gender-based violence and child marriage.

I don’t want to be an unheard refugee, feeling so weak, not doing anything.

In weekly trainings, Motaz – a CARE protection field officer – prepares Information Volunteers who, through house visits, peer-to-peer education, and group discussions, participate in outreach activities with the aim of creating positive change in their communities.

One of the issues the Information Volunteers are addressing is early child marriage, as Motaz explains:

“Some suffer from early marriage, or fear of it. Families worry for the protection of their daughters.”

They want to protect them from rape and abuse that is often used as a weapon in war.

“The refugee situation makes this problem worse. It creates tensions. But when they understand that early marriage can actually do more to harm the girl than to protect her, then we can discuss other ways.”

A new report from CARE – drawing on our work with the Information Volunteers in Turkey – shows that child marriage among the Syrian refugee population is on the increase. This is often because of a misplaced view that marrying off a young girl – particularly in an uncertain and volatile emergency situation – is a way to “protect her honour”.

But as CARE’s report shows, far from ‘protecting’ girls, child marriage is a gateway to other forms of gender-based violence and abuse; is life-endangering (girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 20s); and has a life-long negative impact on the individual, the family, the community and society.

CARE’s report argues that it is vital that child marriage is addressed in emergency-affected communities from the onset of a crisis – such as through the awareness-raising work of our Information Volunteers. The programme in Turkey is in its early days, but already we have feedback from the communities we work in that the work of the Information Volunteers is preventing child marriage – after all, Syrian families don’t want to purposefully put their girls in danger. As one of them said:

We cannot wait until it is a bigger problem – our girls should be protected from the destiny of early marriage.

And as another Information Volunteer explained, “We need to continue to work on this issue. If we remain as refugees for longer, there will be more and more children married – sometimes this is the only way to cope.”

We left Kobane to protect our girls; we are not protecting them by marrying them.

Through the Information Volunteer programme, Syrian refugee communities are beginning to take the lead in tackling the scourge of early child marriage. As Motaz explains:

The main thing we want is to convey to them that they can do something. It empowers them. They don’t feel helpless anymore and they share this power with others.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual.

Interview with Motaz by Mary Kate MacIsaac, Regional Syria Response Communications Coordinator, CARE

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.