A Mother's Love Is Stronger Than All Traditions

A Mother's Love Is Stronger Than All Traditions

4/29/19

 

Of the estimated 125 million 10-year-olds alive around the globe today, just over 60 million are girls. They are the world's future leaders and trailblazers, but only if we do our part now to keep girls in schools, protect girls' health and well-being, and provide them with the opportunities to grow and prosper. 

At this pivotal time, the need to invest in girls' futures is reinforced by the realization that girls continue to face the most disgraceful human rights abuses and often live in conditions that deprive them of dignity, safety, and autonomy. Traditional social norms, including child marriage, mean many underage girls are forced to drop out of school and forego any chance of pursuing their aspirations. 

Jawaher* is an example of what results when a mother opens her eyes to harmful traditional practices and gives her daughter back her childhood — and her future.

We were living near the airport in Idlib, Syria, and things were becoming gloomier by the day. Then one day we heard the airplanes fly so close by that we ran out of our house, just before it was bombed flat. I decided it was time to escape the bombing and the danger that surrounded us. I was with my three daughters, my son, my husband’s other wife as well as her three children. We finally reached the Syrian-Lebanese border hoping to start a new journey away from all the danger. We ended up settling in one of the Syrian refugee camps in the Lebanese Bekaa valley. Because my husband works in Saudi Arabia, I was and still am responsible for the whole family.

Not only did I bring my family with me to the refugee camps, but also the traditions and beliefs I inherited from the ancient tribes of Aleppo. I used to believe in so many things just because my parents and their parents before them had told me to. I was married at 14, a child myself. I grew up thinking that this was the normal thing for girls to do. When my eldest brother-in-law asked for my nine-year-old daughter’s hand in marriage to his 15-year-old son, I couldn’t refuse his request.

Halima is a refugee from Syria

"I was able to change my life, and more importantly, change a very bad fate that would have befallen on my daughter."

 

It’s fascinating how you can live your life as if blindfolded and, all of a sudden, have the blindfold removed. When KAFA, a local Lebanese NGO to combat violence and exploitation against women and girls, established a committee for child protection in our camp, I was curious and went to see what they were talking about. The issues they discussed were very informative. At the same time, they were unfavorable to the traditions we have been practicing for over 500 years. What really grabbed my attention was what they were saying about early and forced child marriage, and the alarming and harmful consequences on the child. When I began to learn about this, my whole outlook on life and my plans for my daughter changed unexpectedly. I began to see how my own life was based on a type of violence that no one ever spoke about. I saw how I had been unable to live a normal childhood, unable to obtain an education, let alone live a “normal” life.

"When I began to learn about this, my whole outlook on life and my plans for my daughter changed unexpectedly."

Starting from that very first session, and then during those that followed, numerous thoughts began racing through my mind as I watched my daughter Safaa play with her friends in the muddy aisles between the tents. How can a child her age take on the responsibility of marriage and then bear children, I wondered? What did she know? Do I have the right to deprive her of her child’s right to play? Can I take the risk of subjecting her to potential psychological and health problems by marrying so early? The sessions touched something deep inside me and so, eventually I began to speak up. And when I did, I spoke up so loudly that I ended up becoming one of the people giving sessions like those I had attended to other women and members of the community.

Although many people came and told me I was stupid not to send my daughter to her new husband, that it’s one mouth less to feed, I went ahead and told my brother-in-law that I was calling the wedding off. To no one’s surprise, he became very angry. So angry in fact that he sent his wife to the camp where we are living with instructions to take my daughter back with her. I refused. He hasn’t spoken to me since.

CARE Lebanon's “One Neighborhood” approach, which aims to build better cohesion between Syrian refugee and vulnerable Lebanese families through providing housing and bathroom rehabilitation.

At one session I was delivering, a woman called out to me, asking, “When is the next session?” I answered, “It’s as if you’re waiting for a food parcel!” and she said, “This is even better than a food parcel.”

I was able to change my life, and more importantly, change a very bad fate that would have befallen on my daughter. I feel I saved her life. Looking back now, I actually think that I was first blessed when I was able to flee to safety with my children, and then I was blessed a second time, because my daughter who will be turning 13 soon is still with me, like any young child should be with their mother.

* Name has been changed

KAFA’s goal is to reduce and eliminate the prevalence of child marriage within the refugee communities in Lebanon by raising awareness and understanding of the subject within the target community and strengthening its capacity to curtail and prevent it. A recent program evaluation found that some 70 percent of key community actors reported a positive change in attitude towards gender-based violence, exploitation, and abuse.

Learn more about CARE works to reverse harmful gender norms and empower women and girls here

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