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As Mideast school bells ring, refugees shouldn’t miss out

Education is the single most powerful tool that any person, including women, can hold

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

As school bells rang throughout the Middle East, signaling a new school year, children across dozens of refugee camps flocked to make-shift schools for a less than stable education.

The UNHCR estimates that over 57% of the inhabitants of the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan are under the age of 18. Sadly, young girls are leaving education and resorting to marriage. Great attention must be paid to ensure that our young girls complete their high school education, and are given the full support to continue into tertiary education if they want to.

Education is one of the greatest blessings refugee camps can offer. It offers young children an escape from their lives in tents and offers them an opportunity to build their social and academic skills, which they will undoubtedly need in the future.

Marriage does not replace an education

Before the war, a mere 13% of marriages in Syria involved children. A report by the U.N. Children’s Agency estimates that now, almost a third of the registered marriages in the refugee camps involve girls under the age of 18.

Education is the single most powerful tool that any person, including women, can hold

Yara al-Wazir

The reasons are numerous. The dire situation in the camps means many are in need of any form of cash, even if it comes in the form of a dowry for their daughters. Other reasons include safety and escaping harassment.

Marriage does not replace an education, be it in refugee camps, or in every-day situations. Education is the single most powerful tool that any person, including women, can hold. It is the key to jobs, a stronger economy, and a healthier family. An educated woman can take care of her children better, and would have the key skills required for running a household, including time management, organization, and leadership.

Educated women are the key to rebuilding warzones. According to the UNHCR, women are the sole breadwinners for on in for refugee families. This translates to 145,000 refugees who are struggling to make ends meet.

There is no convenience in marriage - it is not an escape. Yes, the situation for women in refugee camps is much less than ideal. There are reports of harassment of women on a daily basis. There are three schools that cater to the refugees of Zaatari camp in Jordan, but the distances required to travel to them increase the rates of harassment suffered by women along the way, repulsing them altogether from the idea of education.

Child brides’ health at risk

A young girl in a refugee camp has seen plenty of horrors throughout her life. So many horrors, that in fact, people may refuse to call her a child, and instead choose to see her as an adult. Sadly, the way that society perceives this young girl has no bearing on her health. The horrors she has faced and the distances she has travelled do not make her a woman, and her body is yet not able to bear what woman can bear.

The risk of death during labor is five times greater when the mother is under the age of 15. The mental and emotional abuse suffered from the war is devastating enough, and young girls should not risk their lives during childbirth, or being subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands when seeking ‘security’.

The local and international community can collaborate

The local and international community can collaborate to end this epidemic of child marriage. Contrary to many issues affecting children, and especially girls in the region, child marriage in refugee camps is not a cultural issue. The statistics support this – the rate of child marriage has more than doubled since the war. It is a sign of desperation for safety.

Yet child marriages are not safe, and this is what both the local and international community must recognize. Laws banning child marriage can be put in place, but we must also look at the root cause of the problem: safety. Providing the refugees with a safe environment to live and continue their education is key to ending the epidemic of child marriage.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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