“Not On My Watch!” This Teen Is Raising Her Voice To Stop Child Marriage In Refugee Camps


The effect of a young girl raising her voice is nothing short of powerful and world changing. Syrian teen Omaima Hoshan is a perfect example of this. She lives in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, along with up to 80,000 other refugees who have fled their home country due to the civil war which has been raging since 2012.

Aside from the many horrific aspects of war often disproportionately felt by families and children, is the problem of child marriages which are on the rise in refugee camps. Child marriages are practiced in regions where poverty is rife, and a girl child is seen as a financial burden to a family in a society where equal rights is not the common standard (i.e, a girl is not seen as a potential source of income, stability or power).

According to the UNHCR, in pre-war Syria, around 13% of marriages involved someone under 18. Among Syrian refugees in Jordan, this rate rose to 32% — or one in three marriages. What’s worse, almost half of them involve husbands 10 or more years older. Child brides are less likely to finish school, and more likely to be victims of domestic violence. More than 700 million women globally were married before turning 18, according to a UNICEF report.


The problem with the child marriage epidemic is that although many countries have outlawed the practice, in some places like Jordan (where the legal minimum age for marriage is 18) religious judges are given license to skirt around the law and preside authorize marriages where girls are as young as 14.

Omaima is working hard to raise awareness about the dangers of child marriage in a bid to prevent girls from having their childhood cut short. Her passion for this cause started when one of her friends was married off at 14 years old, was taken out of school, and Omaima never saw her again.

In a profile video made by UNHCR to educate more people about the practice, Omaima talks about the workshops she now runs to discourage people from child marriage. She encourages girls to stay in school while also speaking to parents about the implications of marrying off their daughters too young.

“When I see young girls getting married, it scares me. Girls from my home have their future lost or destroyed. This is something I can’t accept,” she said.


So she uses her knowledge and her voice to be an advocate for those, educating people in her camp on the implications of child marriage.

“I could see their pain, so I started out just offering simple advice — that early marriage is bad for you and for your mental and physical health. But I soon realized that advice was not enough,” she told Mashable in an interview.

Rather than just explaining why it is bad, the workshops she holds have become a practical and fun way to disseminate the important information, through activities such as drawing and singing. One of the aspects of child marriage she wants to stress is that a young girl’s body is not necessarily equipped to handle child-bearing.

“Their bodies are not ready for childbirth, and emotionally they are not ready to be wives and mothers. A mother is like a school, so if she is prepared then her children will be prepared,” she explained.

She does come up against some hurdles in her advocacy, where some families tell her it is “none of her business”, but sometimes Omaima and her friends find the mothers are more inclined to listen to them. There have even been some instances they can point to where they have managed to stop a child marriage from happening.


“One of my friends got engaged and told me she would soon get married and never see us again. She wanted to get married, but my friends and I got together and told her she was making a mistake and should continue her education. Eventually we persuaded her to ask her family to call off the engagement and now she is back in school with us,” she said, showing the power of simply being present and not being afraid to use her voice.

Like another well-known advocate of girls getting an education (Malala Yousafzai!) Omaima is lucky enough to have a supportive family who want to see her succeed in life.

“My dad tells me that I started something good and I should continue what I am doing. I want to go to university and study to be a lawyer so that I can defend the rights of women and girls,” she said.

In fact Omaima counts the Nobel Peace Prize winner as an inspiration for her activism in the Za’atari camp.


“My mum brought me Malala’s book, so I’ve read all about her life and work. She is a great person and very inspirational. I would love to meet her one day, and I wish all the girls in the world could be like Malala,” she said, and if her life is anything to go by, it seems she is the incarnation of her own wish.

Child marriage is still a very big problem and a major part of the solution comes from raising awareness, and educating people on the long-term health and social effects of the practice. The fact that one teen girl, living in a refugee camp of all places, is becoming an effective tool for social change is proof how much can happen if we speak up for those in need.

Omaima does plan to get married at some stage, but says it will be at an appropriate time, and she will not sacrifice her education for it.

“[It will be] after I’ve finished my education and been to university. Hopefully when I do get married, I won’t be living in Za’atari anymore,” she said.

You can watch the UNHCR video feature on Omaima below:




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