TEXT: Carina Bergfeldt TRANSLATION: Katie Dodd SykT
he man hasn’t had his new mobile phone for long before it plings.
“Hello Sir. I am a serious and good man who would like the hand of your daughter.
Please contact this number for more information.”
The man reads the message from an unknown number.
He is in a refugee camp, having left his own country. He is not alone in receiving these messages. Similar text messages have gone out to countless telephones in the camps. Many of the impoverished parents are reading the same thing, getting the same offer.
In the end, the father lifts his phone and dials the number.
Sometimes, the men want normal marriages. But often they don’t.
They are called “pleasure marriages”, Nikah al-Mut’ah, and involve a man getting married for a shorter period of time, anything from 30 minutes to a month or two or three. A half-legalized form of child sex trade. And a growing epidemic that more and more of the girls who have moved from the war are being forced to endure – this after their initial hell in leaving their home and country and school and friends.
“We are sadly aware that there has been a large increase in child marriages, and also in this form of time-limited marriages. We only have anecdotal reports but no evidence as UNICEF,” explains Sandra Chehab of UNICEF in Lebanon as we ride in the car. We are on our way to meet a few young women who have fallen victim to being married off.
“The number of Syrian girls who are being forced to marry before they turn 18 has tripled since the war broke out, according to a study conducted by the Universite St Joseph in 2015,” she continues.
I am fed with numbers, statistics, and information. But the fact that it is children this is about – CHILDREN – doesn’t fully hit me until a few hours later. We sit in a room in Tripoli and the black-clothed woman in front of me bursts into tears when she talks about the 40-year-old man who will soon own her. To dry away the tears from her face, she lifts her veil. I find myself starring at the girl’s face, which had been hidden until now. Her round cheeks, and small, upturned nose both remind me of my 12-year-old niece. A doll’s face so far from being completely matured. So obvious a sign that this is a child, not an adult, in front of me.
It is because of her, and children like her, that we have returned. The reason that we insist to continue telling stories of the war that most people are tired of. That does not generate coveted clicks. That does not sell newspapers.
We continue to come here – to the border of Syria – because while life continues at home, it does here as well. A life where every fourth Syrian refugee girl will be married off before her 18th birthday. A life where this very child with the chubby cheeks will soon be raped by an adult man who has bought her.
Before she leaves me, she whispers a question that the embarrassed interpreter translates: “Can you take me home with you?”
The lump in my stomach stays there long after the child has left the room.