Trafficking in Syrian girls reaches Lebanon – and cyberspace
We knew it happens in Jordan.
Now it is happening in Lebanon as well.
Some people make a business out of trafficking women for rich foreigners, says Ayman Hariri, a Syrian activist who settled in Akkar in 2011 when he had to flee Daraa fearing arrest. He used to run an NGO that provided aid for Syrian refugees, but he decided to close it down. Trying to provide aid is difficult, with some aid organizations using their small NGOs to sell 16-year-old girls to their Gulf sponsors in exchange for money.
“I can tell you about someone I know, I met him in person and he offered to bribe me. He posed as a sheikh with a Saudi benefactor. People soon found out his organization was actually what you call a whorehouse: He was getting girls for the Saudi sheikh. If he liked the girl, he would offer $10,000, he would marry her for a week, and then she would go back home with $1,000. The rest was given to the so-called Lebanese sheikh, who now owns a building and has several cars,” Hariri explains.
He says that Akkar is not like the Zaatari camp in Jordan, and the arranged marriages and cloaked prostitution aren’t nearly as frequent. “Jordan is closer to the Gulf, where girl-brides and early marriage are more common. Lebanon is farther away.”
But international organizations and NGOs in Lebanon say early marriage happens among the Syrian refugees as well as host communities. Stopping it is almost impossible, because Lebanese law allows child marriage, sociologist Rafif Rida Sidawi told NOW. “The Lebanese family code allows marriage for girls as young as 13-14. In some confessions, even as young as 9.” (Lebanon has 15 different family codes, almost one for each sect. Many of them allow child marriage.)
A Lebanese sheikh who requested to remain anonymous told NOW that he would never marry a girl under 13, although the law tells him that the minimum age is 9. “I need to see the girl, to see if she’s ready. I also need a medical certificate, and the father’s permission,” he explained.
But the Internet is also allowing rich Arab perverts to find and “marry” Syrian girls:
It is common to see on Arabic online forums requests by men “seeking marriage from Syrian girls”. At a price ranging from 500 to 1,000 Saudi riyals (Dh490 to Dh980), girls are reportedly being taken from refugee camps in Jordan. Saudi Arabia is most often named as the destination, but a similar trend is reported in other countries including Iraq and Turkey.
The Saudi columnist Mohammed Al Osaimi, who first highlighted the online posts, wrote that parents feel compelled to marry their daughters off to strangers because they see that as a better option than staying in a refugee camp.
The trend was also triggered by clerics such as Sheikh Adnan Arour, a hardline Syrian cleric, who has issued fatwas to encourage men to marry victims of sexual assault and “cover their shame” through marriage. But the fatwas ironically have led to further sexual exploitation.
In these classified ads, men post brief requests on different websites, often leaving only their first names and email addresses. “I am looking for a Syrian wife,” a man identifying himself as Asa’ad wrote on a website. “I am a man of means and I fear God. My Syrian sisters are decent and honourable.”
Many other comments are far more demeaning. A man, who identified himself only as “Jordanian”, sardonically wrote “no woman deserves sympathy these days”, in reference to dishonesty. Another man who called himself Abdulsamad wrote a longer post explaining that his desire to marry a Syrian woman had preceded the conflict, apparently to present a better case.
Another man wrote: “This is not a question of exploitation. It is a question of supply and demand.” He suggested a reduction in dowries to 100 dinars [Dh520] because of the increasing number of refugees.
Maher Abu Tair, a Jordanian columnist, wrote: “All we hear these days is talk about a Syrian wife who can be bought with 100 dinars. One could go to any of the areas of Al Mafraq, Amman, Ramtha, Irbid or Karak to pick for himself a Levantine houriya.” (A Levantine houriya, or virgin, is a reference to women from the Levant known in Arab cultures for their beauty). He added that people are encouraged by the speedy, cheap and conditions-free marriages.