Target: President Michel Sleiman of Lebanon
Goal: Protect Syrian refugee girls from sexual violence inherent in child marriage and exacerbated by their status as refugees.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than three quarters of Syrians fleeing civil war in their home country are women and children. In addition to losing their families’ homes and many loved ones during their perilous displacement in other countries, young refugee girls are also faced with the threat of being forced into child marriage.
Child marriage violates the rights of Syrian girls by risking their physical and emotional health, robbing them of their education and opportunities to gain vocational and life skills. Girls who marry underage are more likely to suffer from domestic violence and spousal rape because children are afforded even fewer rights than adult women and they have no other options, a predicament that abusers exploit.
Underage girls are at greater risk of debilitating obstetric injuries or death during childbirth because their bodies have not fully developed. These risks are exacerbated in a refugee crisis when girls are undernourished and cannot access healthcare. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for girls fifteen to nineteen years old in developing countries. Mothers under twenty experience still births and newborn deaths fifty percent more than women who get pregnant in their twenties.
Gender-based violence including child marriage is associated with resource disparity and perpetuated by a lack of infrastructure in place to afford women protection from abuse. When public sectors do not ensure the protection of each genders’ rights, it is up to family codes to keep girls from harm. Syrian families wish to protect girls from sexual violence encountered during migration, so they allow older men to marry their underage daughters as an economic strategy for the provision of resources and for protection from other males.
However, pushing girls into marriage because of economic necessity is a form sexual violence as it denies them of their rights and places them in danger of sexual coercion from husbands. The patriarchal system affords Syrian girls little protection because female children are perceived as less socially and less economically valuable than males. During economic hardship families may view girls as particularly burdensome and rely on dowries to alleviate financial hardship. Girls feel obligated to obey their families who have encouraged marriage arrangements.
In order to save Syrian refugee girls from the dangers of child marriage, host countries such as Lebanon must work with multinational agencies involved in aid relief to catch incidences of child marriage in needs assessments. Urge Lebanon to take measures to make sexual violence traceable and punishable by law. By providing circulation permits to refugees, Lebanon can give families better opportunities to provide for themselves and not have to resort to arranging marriages for their underage daughters. Lebanon should ensure that women and girls can access health and legal services regardless of their registration status or whether they reside inside or outside of designated refugee areas.
Dear President Michel Sleiman of Lebanon,
Over half a million Syrians have taken refuge in your country after fleeing violence in their own. Three quarters of Syrian refugees are vulnerable women and children who more than ever need your government’s protection from the dangers of refugee migration. Female children are especially suffering during this refugee crisis because the traditional social norms that dictate the options available to them do not protect their rights.
Syrian refugee girls are being pushed into underage marriages to counter economic hardships and because their families believe that it will prevent them from becoming victims of sexual violence. However, child marriage is a form of sexual violence because it threatens the health of girls, causes emotional trauma, and prevents them from being able to have opportunities for education and employment.
I urge you to take measures to ensure the protection of refugee girls from this appalling human rights violation. Tracking incidences of child marriage in needs assessments will make it possible to make sexual violence visible and thus traceable and punishable by law. Giving circulation permits to refugees will increase their financial stability. It is important to grant women and girls access to health and legal services regardless of their registration status or the area where they reside.
Working with multinational agencies to help Syrian refugees obtain resources necessary for survival including adequate physical and mental healthcare and empowerment through education and opportunities to make a living will benefit Lebanese society as well.
[Your Name Here]
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