Omaima Hoshan, a 15-year-old Syrian girl, is campaigning against child marriage by working for Save the Children as an outreach volunteer in her refugee camp. She offers drawing and acting classes to her peers in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan to communicate the issues around child marriage, which disproportionately affects Syrian women. The issue has returned to the forefront due to the Syrian refugee crisis, and more Syrian adolescents are being married off, often to non-Syrian men, as a last-resort tactic to escape the awful conditions in the camps. Omaima hopes she will be able to play a role in educating and discouraging them from making the mistake of marrying too early.
The bleak reality of the situation is that one third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18, while 1 in 9 are married before the age of 15 according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). Pre-war Syria saw 13 percent of marriages involve a minor (below the age of 18) and today that number has risen to 32 percent among Syrian refugees in Jordan. According to Jordanian law, the age of consent is 18, however, Shari’a judges and local sheikhs overlook this rule, allowing girls ages 15 and below to marry.
Hoshan remained ignorant of the issues of child marriage until she entered sixth grade. At the ages of 12 and 13, Hoshan’s classmates began entering into matrimony, dropping out of school in the process. When Hoshan’s best friend Basma became a statistic at 13, Hoshan was inspired to help girls avoid the same fate.
“Their bodies are not ready for childbirth, and emotionally they are not ready to be wives and mothers,” Hoshan explained in an interview with Mashable. “A mother is like a school, so if she is prepared, then her children will be prepared.”
Working with local activists, aid workers, and with the support of her parents, Hoshan is openly campaigning against the institutions of arranged child marriages. Hoshan holds lectures, organizes plays, and teaches classes warning and educating young girls and parents about the dangers of arranged child marriage. These dangers include health risks, illiteracy, and becoming more vulnerable to physical and mental abuse. For many of Hoshan’s classmates’ families, entering their daughters in early matrimony is a more affordable way to secure their futures. However, Hoshan spreads awareness on these misconceptions, highlighting the long term positive effects that can be gained from choosing education over marriage.
While Hoshan has encountered some opposition on child marriage, especially from fathers, she is not willing to give up on fighting against arranged marriage. Instead, Hoshan finds other methods to get her message across.
“Often I and others will go with the girls to speak to their families, and they tell us it’s none of our business,” explains Hoshan. “Usually they are very polite, but fathers especially can sometimes be strict. I find it easier to convince the mothers, and then they can influence their husbands.”
Inspired by both her parents and her idol, Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, Hoshan plans to attend university and become a lawyer to continue her defense of women’s rights.
Featured Image by DFID – UK Department for International Development on Flickr
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