Child marriage is a tragic human rights abuse that currently affects 600 million girls worldwide and is a phenomenon that occurs for myriad systemic reasons, including poverty and cultural beliefs, among others. Although there were previous gains made in reducing child marriage rates worldwide, child marriage has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic and increasing poverty during this challenging time. Pre-COVID, some nations, including Lebanon, were already struggling with eradicating child marriage within their borders due to the impact of regional conflicts. In Lebanon, the rate of child marriage had already increased, primarily due to the large number of Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon during and after the Syrian crisis. The purpose of this paper is twofold: to understand professional stakeholders’ perceptions of causes of child marriage in Lebanon among Syrian refugees and to explore gaps between the recognized causes of child marriage (perceived by the service providers/stakeholders) and current interventions used.
A qualitative framework was guided by interpretive description (ID) methodology and included a grounded theory approach to participant interviews and data analysis. In 2018, 28 in-depth interviews were conducted using a purposive sample of key professional stakeholders working to eradicate child marriage in Lebanon. Primary data were collected through face-to-face in-depth, semi-structured interviews in participants’ workplaces in Beirut. Participants who had a professional interest in combating child marriage in Lebanon, especially among Syrians living in the country, were invited to participate. A maximum variation purposeful sampling technique was used to obtain broad insights and garner rich information from the participants. Congruent with ID methodology, thematic analysis was conducted.
Participants identified four significant themes as causes of child marriage: 1) the financial burden of girls; 2) issues around girls’ safety, security, and protecting honor; 3) religious traditions; and 4) lack of awareness of consequences of child marriage. As researchers, we found that the interventions currently being used by the participant stakeholders were not aligned with many of the identified causes of child marriage. Notably, none of the research participants used or suggested using interventions that related to meaningful enforcement of current laws, religious community leaders’ control over marriages and divorce in Syrian communities, racism and discrimination against refugees, the ongoing misogynist harassment of women and girls, nor the abject poverty within the Syrian refugee community.
Conclusions and Implications:
Supported by the findings, we argue that stakeholders’ excessive focus on raising awareness of the dangers of child marriage as the primary intervention used demonstrates a disregard for the greater need to 1) launch local peace-building and anti-war initiatives in the region; 2) implement poverty alleviation efforts within the Syrian community in Lebanon, and 3) provide more safety within rural and refugee-populated areas within Lebanon, especially en-route to schools and within schools. This research adds to the social work knowledge base by highlighting the disconnect between causes of child marriage and interventions in Lebanon. This research can be used to assist service providers with providing appropriate interventions that are culturally appropriate for Syrian refugees.