FACTS & FIGURES
- More than 1.6 million Syrians are hosted in foreign countries, placing unprecedented strain on communities, infrastructure and services in host countries.
- There has been a massive escalation of arrivals in 2013. Over one million Syrian refugees have registered as refugees since the beginning of 2013.
- Women and children make up three-quarters of the refugee population.
- The vast majority of refugees are dependent on aid, arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs.Camp Zaatari, a tent city in the Jordanian desert, now houses 100,000 refugees. Vulnerable Syrian women fleeing to Zaatari have found trafficking, kidnapping, forced marriages and nowhere else to run.
"The Jordanian guys harass Syrian girls even at the age of 6 and 7." The woman points to a young girl of only 5 or 6 and says, "They'll even harass a young girl like her." The girl smiles a shy, bleak smile. Wealthy Arab men also come here to buy young Syrian brides. The Sheikh who runs the mosque in the camp explains why: "the dowries in the Gulf countries are very high, but to marry a Syrian woman is really cheap". In a bizarre contradiction, sexual violence is prompting families to marry off their daughters as young as possible, in a bid to pre-empt rape and sexual attacks. Matchmakers and brokers are cynically infiltrating the camp by posing as aid workers in search of Syrian brides who fall victim to so-called "pleasure marriages". One 28 year-old housewife from Homs who is effectively "pimping" out young Syrian girls for sex, gives us a price-list for anything from a cup of tea to a "pleasure marriage": "If he wants to get married it's $1400". This startling expose sheds a stark light on the forgotten plight of the women and girls of the Syrian civil war.
Muslim men from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have asked their embassies to help them find Syrian girls living in makeshift refugee camps in Jordan and Iraq. "Exploiting the conditions of the girls in the refugee camps by marrying them temporarily is a form of rape that must stop immediately. Those responsible for this crime should be brought to trial," says Abdel Bari Atwan of Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
Syrian female refugees aged 14 and 15 who fled their country to Jordan and Iraq are being forced into "pleasure marriages" [Nikah al-Mut'ah] -- a pre-Islamic custom allowing men to marry for a limited period.
Apart from being a cover for legalized prostitution (the marriage can last for as little as 30 minutes), Nikah al-Mut'ah deprives the wife of many rights.
No divorce is necessary in "pleasure marriages," for instance, and the husband may void the marriage earlier than agreed.
What is most disturbing about this practice is not even whether or not the wife has rights, so much as that Muslim scholars and preachers have given the green light to their followers to exploit the plight of the poor and helpless Syrian girls.
Muslim men from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have in the past few weeks asked their embassies in Amman and Baghdad to help them find Syrian girls living in makeshift refugee camps in Jordan and Iraq.
This is happening at a time when the oil-rich Arab countries are doing almost nothing to help the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are living in extremely difficult conditions.
Some Arab human rights activists have condemned the phenomenon, but their voice has thus far fallen on deaf ears.
Muslim preachers in a number of Arab countries have been encouraging their followers to engage in "pleasure marriages" with Syrian girls as a way of ridding them and their families of their misery. Some of these preachers have even issued fatwas [Islamic decrees] permitting the sexual exploitation of minors.
Many of these girls, according to reports in a number of Arab media outlets, are being returned to their families after hours or days of the temporary marriage.
Some of the victims are being sold by their desperate families to Muslim men in return for a few hundred dollars.
The Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour revealed that Muslim men from the kingdom were also exploiting the plight of the Syrian refugees by targeting 14 and 15 year old girls.
According to sources in Amman, some Jordanian Islamists have even divorced their wives in favor of temporary marriage of minors.
Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, expressed outrage over the "ugly exploitation" of Syrian girls who fled the war in their country.
"Exploiting the conditions of the girls in the refugee camps by marrying them temporarily is a form of rape that must stop immediately," Atwan wrote. "Those responsible for this crime should be brought to trial."
Yet Atwan's condemnation seems to be a lone voice in the desert. No prominent Muslim figure or organization has deemed it necessary to denounce the sexual exploitation of the Syrian girls.