He says he’s against it, but he has no choice.
In a few months, Mehmet will marry off his 16-year-old daughter.
“If school had been a possibility, then I would have chosen it,” he says.
It smells like mold.
He points to the large green spots that spread across the ceiling and walls.
“Some of us are almost always sick, but this here is what we can afford,” says Mehmet.
There are 21 people sharing this 4-room apartment in the Lebanese port city, Tripoli, just 2 hours’ drive from the war in Syria – their original home that they have not seen for the last 3 years.
There was a time that Tripoli was one of the Mediterranean’s most important ports. But then the civil war raged between 1975 and 1990, and the city has never really recovered from those 15 difficult years. The majority of the houses in the city today look like the building where the family lives. Colors flake along the crumbled cement of the houses’ ammunition-scarred facades.
“We do not want to be here, but what can we do?” says Mehmet.
He has two wives and a total of 17 children. 12 of them are daughters. Home in Syria, providing for a family was not a concern. Now, when this man has left his home and his company for a life on the road, things are not so simple.
He is not proud of the solution he has chosen: to marry off his young daughters.
“Believe me when I say that I would not do it if I was really not forced to.”
Nearly one in four Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon will be married off before their 18th birthdays. The numbers are almost as high in Jordan, too, where men from different countries buy child brides in refugee camps. Child marriage has tripled among the Syrian refugees in the 5 years since the war broke out.
Today, the average amount it costs to marry a girl is 22,500 krona, but Mehmet says that he has not been paid at all by the men who married his teenage daughters. Because he is so desperate to find someone who can take the burden of a child off his shoulders, it doesn’t matter that they can’t pay.
“The man who married my 13-year-old daughter lives here with us. He pays 660 krona to me in rent every month. That helps a little bit at least,” Mehmet says.
Next in line is his 16-year-old daughter, who is betrothed against her will to a man who is more than double her age. She begins to cry when she talks about the impending wedding. Her father shrugs his shoulders.
“No one wants his daughter to be put in this situation. Of course, it would be a better alternative to let her go to school, but that is not possible,” he says.
The wedding will take place this summer.
TRANSLATION: Katie Dodd Syk