Part of the beauty of being in a foreign country and experiencing things on your own is that you are constantly learning.
Whether it be learning about yourself, your comfort level, or even your surroundings, there’s a constant stream of knowledge every turn you make.
My experience in Jordan has been no different.
Today, we met with Leen Khayat, a human rights lawyer in Amman. She specializes in women’s rights, freedom of expression, and has a wealth of knowledge regarding the Syrian refugee crisis.
I wasn’t expecting to learn everything that I did today.
Having visited Azraq and seen firsthand the kind of living situation that exists there, Khalat let me in on another huge issue surrounding the Syrian refugee crisis – child marriages.
“In Syrian culture, it’s okay for young girls to marry an older man, it’s common,” she explained. “They raise their girls to become a mother and a wife.”
In addition to traditions, Khalat explained that marrying girls off at a young age is just one of many desperate attempts to ease the financial pressure and burden on cash-strapped refugee families or provide a sense of security for their daughters. It’s all part of the vicious cycle of poverty.
“As displacement and the challenges of living in exile are weakening other coping mechanisms…families may be more inclined than before to resort to child marriage in response to economic pressures or to provide a sense of security for their daughters,” as cited in a 2014 UNICEF report on early marriages in Jordan.
It’s also sometimes seen as a way for a Syrian daughter to receive sponsorship and reside outside of the camps, if she marries a Jordanian man.
Child marriages, Khalat explained, existed before the war, but were nowhere near as common as they’ve now become.
Early marriages represented roughly 35 per cent of all marriages in 2015 among Syrian refugees, according to statistics from the Chief Islamic Justice Department. That number is almost double the 18 per cent figure in 2012.
“This isn’t weird in the Syrian culture,” Khalat explained. “Marriage after the [war] has many definitions. It’s economic, it’s social, its’ sexual, and it’s a business.”
Khalat went on to explain one of the many cases that has come across her desk as a human rights lawyer.
A 13-year-old Syrian girl was forced to marry an 18-year-old man. They were able to leave the refugee camp, but it wasn’t any kind of idyllic life for this young girl.
She eventually managed to escape her husband after a couple of years, but being on her own meant she struggled financially.
She found that her only solution was to turn to prostitution.
“When she suffered from a harsh sexual treatment, the police took her to the hospital and [an] investigation started,” Khalat explained.
While there are a variety of programs in place within the refugee camps to curb child marriages and raise awareness of rights, as well as doctors trained in hospitals to look for signs of rape, the problem continues to grow for these Syrian refugees.
While the minimum age for marriage is 18 in Jordan, certain circumstances under Sharia law allow judges to authorize younger marriages.
The laws are in place, but not always implemented.
“We are dealing with the problems, but can’t find the solution,” Khalat explained.
These are the same issues that Syrian radio station, Souriali, is trying to shed light on.
We visited their offices in Amman, after a failed attempt at speaking to a doctor who deals with child marriages and rape cases, at a downtown hospital.
Souriali is a social radio station, trying to bring awareness to issues facing Syrians all over the world.
“We talk about issues related to Syria, from Syrians,” explained Hassan Muhra, the head of production for Souriali in Amman.
For example, when discussing a ceasefire in Aleppo, the focus isn’t on the details of the ceasefire or how it works.
Instead, Souriali looks at how the lives of the Syrian people are affected, and what it means for the actual human beings on the ground.
They broadcast from a number of cities, with correspondents stationed all over the world – from Europe to Syria to Jordan.
I later found out that one of the participants from my workshop is actually a broadcaster here with her very own radio show.
The station relies not only on trained journalists, but citizen journalists in countries abroad, with social media playing a vital role in each broadcast.
All production can be downloaded from their website, heard on their smart phone application, or accessed on Sound Cloud and YouTube.
Though Internet connections are sparse on the ground in Syria, there are a few undercover places to access Internet in the regime-controlled cities.
For Syrians living outside of Syria, they have a variety of shows aimed at the lives of Syrians abroad.
Some shows include discussing how to build a genuine Syrian identity while living away from home, staying culturally connected, the difficult lives of asylum seekers or refugees, the deadly journey from Syria to Europe by sea, and many more.
The main goal, as their slogan states, is to “give a voice to the voiceless.”
Based on my short visit, their efforts do not go unnoticed.
Today came together in an unexpected way.
Every day in Jordan, I’ve been able to learn something new about the people, the culture, the lives, and the country itself.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to not only learn for myself, but also share my experiences with others.
Though I’ve only begun to scratch the surface in my few weeks here in Jordan, I’ll take back an invaluable amount of knowledge, and a newfound way of looking at the world.