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Salma, the thirteen-year-old Syrian refugee at a camp in Jordan, could never have imagined that her life was about to change when she was called inside her tent by her step-mother as she was playing with her friends one fine day. It was then that her step-mother gave her the news.She was about to get married.
Absolutely stunned by the proclamation, Salma couldn’t believe what she had heard. “When I entered the tent, she was sitting with a few women and a man in his early 30s. She took me to the side, asked me to wear a red dress and said congratulations. This man is your husband now. I approved your marriage.” At age 13, against all her wishes and desires, young Salma became a victim of the Sharia law.
Salma’s story is not a freak occurrence. It’s a story of many refugee children who find themselves bound by the shackles of marriage even after a troublesome journey to free themselves from the shackles of war. Among many refugee communities, child marriages are more of a norm than an exception. But this is not the most surprising aspect of the story. What’s even more shocking is that such practices continue even after they arrive as immigrants here in the west.
One such example is that of the growing number of child marriages among the Muslim immigrant population in Germany. The situation is alarming. To date, more than a thousand cases of child marriages have been registered in Germany but, according to German media, the number of unreported cases may be substantially higher.
These marriages are usually arranged by the parents of the children under Sharia law. The increasing number of child marriages result in more and more cases of girls being taken out of school due to underage pregnancies. And the courts are either unable or unwilling to do anything. Even though child marriages are not allowed under German law, two months ago, a regional German court recognized the marriage of a 14-year-old Syrian girl to her 20-year-old cousin because the marriage were legal in Syria under Islamic law. Even after travelling thousands of miles to escape from persecution, many of these refugee children have been unable to find solace or freedom in the West.
As Syrian refugees continue to pour in Canada, are we heading in the same direction?