The Norwegian Refugee Council estimates that there are over 60 million displaced people in the world. This number is constantly growing: every two seconds another human being is forced to flee.
According to International Medical Corps, there are currently 7.6 million Syrian refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says 6.2% of those refugees are girls between the ages of 12 and 17.
In displacement, adolescent girls suffer disproportionately and silently.
In emergencies, adolescent girls are forced to assume adult roles. This often includes marriage. Care International estimates that 17.7% of Syrian girls married before their 18th birthday prior to the conflict. Save the Children reports that among Syrian refugees in Jordan the number of child brides has doubled.
Conflict and displacement usher families into poverty, which can cause them to marry off their daughters because they can no longer afford to feed them. At the same time, the Women’s Refugee Commission explains that preexisting gender norms are manipulated for power, meaning that all forms of gender-based violence increase in displacement. Wanting to protect their daughters from practices like rape and abduction, parents see marriage as safer than the uncertainty of gender-based violence.
When displaced girls marry, they fall from the humanitarian radar.
Child brides are the most invisible girls in displacement. As married girls, they don’t have the freedom to pursue programs designed for their unmarried peers. As children, they are unable to participate in programs for married women. They are often literally hidden among the masses of migrants, unable to access resources to create a life of dignity.
Abduction, which is bride kidnapping, makes it difficult to prevent child marriage. When I worked on a project with refugees from Somalia in Ethiopia, I would often encounter reports of abduction in the refugee camps. The helplessness in these reports made my stomach sink: girl, age 12, abducted last night. Status: Missing.
Abduction is simple to prevent. After the IKEA Foundation provided lights to refugee camps, I hardly ever read about abduction. Further, IKEA designed and donated durable, safe and easy to transport refugee shelters to UNHCR to replace the unsafe tents. It’s a lot harder to abduct a girl from behind a locked door.
We can support displaced girls
Governments and organizations act on knowledge, and knowledge comes through advocacy. By sharing resources on social media and talking about adolescent girls in conflict, we can build the global knowledge base. Only an informed world can act.
Second, we need to support efforts to help adolescent girls. Many organizations, like the ones mentioned in this blog, are working with girls in conflict. Some organizations offer holiday gifts that benefit refugees, like the IRC. Supporting businesses that support refugees, like IKEA and TOM’s, also makes a difference.
Adolescent girls in displacement are silenced by our lack of knowledge. As a young woman, I know that my humanity is tied up in theirs. It’s our responsibility to raise our voices until they can raise theirs.