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Caught in Contradiction

Making Sense of Child Marriage among Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Executive Summary
The Syrian conflict has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history (UNHCR, 2016) with 5 million Syrians having fled the country and another 6 million people displaced within Syria, including in besieged areas without humanitarian access (Human Rights Watch, 2017). In particular, women and girls have been identified as being at risk of various forms of gender-based violence (GBV) in humanitarian crises (Anani, 2013); one of which is child marriage (UNICEF, 2016).

Child marriage has several well-documented undesirable consequences (International Women’s Health Program, 2009). In this study, SenseMakerR, an innovative mixed quantitative/qualitative data collection tool, was used to better understand the experiences of Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon in order to provide new insights into the societal, economic, security, religious, and psychosocial factors contributing to child marriage within this large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Data collection was conducted over a period of 7 weeks across three Lebanese locations: Beirut, Beqaa, and Tripoli with close oversight by the team leaders in each location. Participants were asked to share a story about the life of a Syrian girl in Lebanon and to then self-interpret the narrative by answering follow-up questions in relation to the story provided.

A total of 1,422 self-interpreted stories were collected from 1,346 unique individuals representing a variety of different participant groups (married and unmarried Syrian girls, Syrian mothers and fathers, married and unmarried men and community leaders). Independently and without prompting by the survey or research assistant, 40% of the stories were about (n=332) or mentioned (n=245) child marriage.

Study results highlight the gendered differences in the views of respondents. For instance, male and female respondents interpret their narratives about child marriage differently and emphasize different underlying factors contributing to this practice. Additionally, it was found that some Syrian girls in Lebanon choose to marry early as a way out of unfavorable living conditions.

Although broad engagement at the community level is required for meaningful and sustained progress towards addressing child marriage, our analysis suggests that it may be more effective to frame strategies differently according to gender. As such, strategies need to take on a gendered approach and be more nuanced for men and women...

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