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1 December 2016 Also available in:
15-year-old Syrian refugee Omaima at a drawing class she teaches at to raise awareness of the dangers of early marriage to her classmates at Za'atari refugee camp.
In her green school uniform, Omaima looks like any other schoolgirl in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. Except the brave 15--‐year--‐old has taken on much more than many of her classmates, running painting and acting classes to raise awareness among young girls and parents in the camp on the dangers of early marriage.

“When I see young girls from Syria, young refugee girls at Za’atari camp getting married and they are under the legal age, it scares me," says Omaima, who fled to Jordan with her family after her uncle was killed and the family felt it was no longer safe for them to stay in Syria.

When Omaima first arrived at Za’atari camp in 2012, she was not aware of the issue of early marriage. Then some of her classmates started vanishing: "When I got to sixth grade, I started hearing about girls as young as 12 or 13 getting married. They would come to the school to say goodbye. I remember thinking they were making a big mistake, even before I knew the facts.”


Under Jordanian law, the minimum age of marriage is 18. Religious (Shari’a) judges may authorize marriages involving children as young as 15, provided the child’s best interests are taken into account. However, despite the law there are also cases of unofficial marriages involving girls 14 or younger.

Among Syrian refugees living in Jordan, the rate of child marriage has increased. Struggling to cope with challenging living conditions and the precarious economic situation, some families may marry off their daughters to ease their financial responsibilities.

In Za’atari camp, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has been working in cooperation with the local Shari’a judge and provides early marriage counselling to all individuals intending to marry before turning 18. This counselling is designed to raise awareness of the risks of early marriage, including the health dangers posed by early pregnancy.

If there is any evidence that the child is under 15 years old or that the marriage is forced, UNHCR provides extensive counselling to families on the legal, health and psychological consequences – in cooperation with the Jordanian government’s Family Protection Unit, which seeks to prevent such marriages from taking place.


For Omaima, what really brought the issue home was seeing one of her best friends married off just before her 14th birthday: “We were always together, she was one of the best students in our class,” Omaima remembers. “She didn’t want to get married, but her parents thought it was the best option for her.”

As is the case with most early marriages, Omaina’s friend left school after the wedding and Omaima didn’t see her again. That episode cemented Omaima’s determination to try to stop the same thing from happening to other girls in the camp.

She saw that her efforts had effect when she was able to convince several underage girls who planned to get married to change their minds and continue going to school.

Her parents’ encouragement is a source of strength for Omaima herself, who hopes to go to university one day.

"My father is proud of me,” she says. “He gives me the courage to speak up and be eloquent. When I feel encouragement from him and my mother, I feel strong.”

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The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.