Growing Up by Force
After a 30 minute drive from CARE Lebanon’s Tripoli office, on the outskirts of the city, we arrive at an informal camp where Syrian refugees are staying. Walking through a field full of pomegranate trees, we reach the last shelter in the row. Ruba opens the door and welcomes us in with one hand while holding her seven months old daughter on the other arm.
Ruba is only 16 years old, but her living circumstances in recent years forced her to get married at the age of 14. “In Syria, it is better for girls living in a war zone to get married,” said Ruba. “By getting married the girl is protected from many harmful risks. Where I was living in Hama many girls were kidnapped. No one knows anything about them now.” Ruba fled her hometown in the governorate of Hama more than two years ago with her family and her husband whom she had just married. Their village was bombed and burnt down.
While sitting down in Ruba’s cold, half-empty house under a metal roof, an outraged voice approaches rapidly: “What are you doing inside my house? And why are you taking pictures?” Ruba’s husband storms at us with all kinds of questions. I calm him down and explain to him how my work is to collect stories about where CARE is helping Syrian refugees in Tripoli by water and sanitation repairs and hygiene promotion.
I re-embark on my chat with Ruba. She sneaks a peek at her husband who sat down on the plain floor, lit a cigarette and engaged in a conversation with my colleague. “I only studied until the fifth grade,” said Ruba in a lowered voice. “I do not miss school. I do not sense any difference between me and girls of my age who are not married. I am living a very normal life with my husband.” It is difficult for me to believe that what Ruba says is not to convince herself about what she is obliged to cope with in her married life.
Ruba is the eldest among her seven siblings. Two of her sisters suffer from learning difficulties. “I used to help my mother take care of my siblings, so I do not face any real problems taking care of my own daughter now.”
When Ruba told me how she gave birth to her daughter, it was difficult for me to imagine what she told me. “I had to deliver after only seven months of pregnancy,” said Ruba. “I tried to go to the hospital here in Lebanon but none would accommodate me. The only solution was for me to go back to Hama amidst the war to give birth there. My husband could not accompany me because he was afraid he might be forced to join the fighting there. Hospitals in Hama were not functioning so I stayed at the house of a family that we had barely known. I gave birth successfully with the help of a midwife and spent twenty days there but the security situation kept deteriorating so I could not stay any longer. I had to move immediately so I took my daughter and came back to Lebanon on my own.”
With Syrian refugee girls under the age of 18 forming more than 25% of the total number of Syrian refugees in the region and females in general forming more than 50% according to reports by the UN, they are the most vulnerable in this crisis, just as they are in any other. “Syrian refugee families with several children are often forced to make difficult decisions with their very limited funds−sometimes having to choose to send only one child to school,” said Gareth Richards, CARE Lebanon country director. “More often than not, it is the girls who lose out.”
With the International Day of the Girl on 11 October approaching, Ruba dreams about the day that many Syrian girls dream about. “I wish for nothing more than for us to return home,” says Ruba. “Our house has been destroyed, we have nothing left in Syria, yet I wish to go back even if I had to live on top of the rubble inside a tent.”
Written by Mahmoud Shabeeb, Regional Communications Officer for the Syria Crisis