Making Sense of Child, Early and Forced Marriage among Syrian Refugee Girls: A Mixed Methods Study in Lebanon

Susan Andrea Bartels, Saja Michael, Sophie Roupetz, Stephanie Garbern, Lama Kilzar, Harveen Bergquist, Nour Bakhache, Colleen Davison, and Annie Bunting

BMJ Global Health, Volume 3, Issue 1 (2018)


Although child marriage did occur in Syria before the war (13 percent of girls under 18 married in 2006), forced displacement appears to have increased its prevalence (around 35 percent of Syrian refugee girls/women married before the age of 18). Using a mixed methods approach, this study explores the factors contributing to child marriage among Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The study is based on over 1,400 “self-interpreted” stories about the experiences of Syrian girls in Lebanon shared by married/ unmarried Syrian girls, Syrian parents, and married/unmarried men; 40 percent of stories focused on or mentioned child marriage. The researchers found:

  • Financial hardship, lack of educational opportunities, and safety concerns around sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) are identified as underlying factors contributing to child marriage.
  • Male and female respondents emphasize different underlying factors. Men commonly discussed child marriage as a financial coping strategy; fathers often viewed early marriage as a response to unfavorable economic conditions and safety concerns in the community. Women and girls were more likely to identify their stories as being about protection/security and education, and more often saw child marriage as a way to protect girls from SGBV and harassment.
  • Female respondents were more likely to view girls as being ‘protected too much’, while men more often perceived girls to be ‘not protected enough’.
  • Both men and women acknowledged the negative impacts of child marriage on young girls.
  • Some Syrian girls are choosing to marry early as a way out of unfavorable living conditions.
  • Parents’ concerns typically centered on preserving the honor of girls by limiting their exposure to sexual experiences before marriage as well as SGBV, and there was a clear sense that the risk of SGBV and harassment is higher for Syrian girls in Lebanon than it was in Syria.
  • Girls were being married after knowing the groom for a very short time, if at all. Sexual exploitation of girls was also described including transactional sex and short-term contractual marriages.

The authors conclude that several factors contribute to early marriage including poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and concerns about SGBV; sexual exploitation under the guise of marriage is a reality for some Syrian girls. The authors recommend: (a) gender-specific strategies to reduce child marriage, given that men and women perceived child marriage differently, and engaging men and boys should continue to be a priority; (b) holistic interventions to address child marriage, including economic, social, educational, and familial strategies; and (c) strategies to improve safety for Syrian girls such as safe spaces and safe modes of transportation, enabling them to socialize and access support.


Gender and LGTBI


Lebanon | Syria