Stolen future: war and child marriage in Northwest Syria
Syria is one of the most dangerous places to be a child. Ten years into the conflict, millions of children are entering their second decade of life in the thick of war, violence, death and displacement.
The situation in the country’s northwest region is dire. The escalation of violence at the start of 2020 highlights the disproportionate cost children have borne in this conflict. Nearly 600,000 were forced to flee their homes since December 2019. Pressed up against the Turkish border, they have nowhere to go. Children are pushed into extreme and inhumane living conditions in crowded camps and makeshift tents. Some have even sought shelter in the open under trees during a harsh and freezing winter.
While thirteen percent of children were already being married under the age of 18 in Syria prior to the crisis, reports highlight significant increases in the rates of child marriage since conflict began. This increased rate is a result of multiple drivers including displacement, poverty and social and cultural pressures. The full extent of child marriage, its drivers and consequences are not completely understood. There are challenges identifying, monitoring and reporting cases inside Syria due to limited access to affected areas, security concerns and cultural sensitivities.
Child marriage is not and should not be considered an inevitability in conflict situations. Rather, it is an extreme response driven for many by desperation and vulnerability, and the collective failure to prioritise and secure child protection systems by both national and international actors. A rapid and systematic shift is required to prevent not only a lost generation of children but a fundamental breakdown of entire communities. Children are Syria’s greatest hope for recovery and resilience, but they are being crushed by the consequences of conflict and the disproportionate burden of vulnerability placed upon them.