Dalal Abdullah is just 13, but her mother has already had to fend off a string of requests for her hand in marriage. A rich Syrian who knew the family back in Aleppo whence they fled four years ago, came and offered 20,000 Turkish lira for the pretty young teenager. A wealthy Turk offered 30,000 lira — enough to pay the rent on their modest, two-room apartment for the next seven years. Dalal’s mother is standing her ground. “She is too young,” she says. “I will not allow it.”
But in Gaziantep, a sprawling city just 30 miles from the Syrian border that is now home to 320,000 refugees, many families have not been able to refuse such huge sums of money. Experts warn that large numbers of teenage girls are being married off underage, sometimes as young as 12.
Accurate data on the extent of the problem is hard to come by. “The cases that are reported are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Sanem Ozturk, of the women’s group Kadav. It seems that child marriage has become one of the hidden tolls of the Syrian refugee crisis.
The practice of marrying off underage girls did exist in Syria prior to the war, especially in rural areas. But it has been exacerbated by conflict. “It has got much worse,” said Nour Burhan, who works with the Syrian Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Gaziantep. “The percentage now is scary,” adding that in some refugee camps inside Syria, as many as six out of ten girls were marrying before the age of 16.