Unforeseen Consequences of the Syrian Civil War for Women: Sutra Marriages

The Syrian civil war has been a major topic of discussion in the news recently, with the chemical weapons situation being at the forefront. Thus most other issues that the war has caused are going unnoticed by the general public. One of these that is particularly concerning is the appalling effects the war has had on the situation of woman.

As a result of Syria’s ongoing conflict hundreds of thousands of people have died the majority of which being men. Many of these men were husbands, fathers, and sons, and now, due to their deaths, their wives and mothers are now left to care for the family alone. This increase in female headed households puts these families at risk as in Syria’s conservative culture a woman without a man is seen to have little ways to protect herself and her family. Indeed, these women often have a hard time finding jobs to support their family and therefore like countless others, they seek safety in refugee camps.

As with most conflicts, the Syrian war has lead to a drastic increase in the amount of displaced people with 78% of these being women and children (Sami, Williams, Krause, Onyango, Burton, and Tomczyk). With so many of these people finding shelter in refugee camps, the camps have become overcrowded and have developed their own set of problems for their inhabitants to deal with. While woman seek safety for themselves and their children in these camps, this is often the exact opposite of what they find. These “sanctuaries” for refugees have in fact become breeding grounds for rape and sexual assault. Syrian refugee Mariam explained the true situation of the camps best when she stated “We left Syria to escape death and we found something worse than death” (Damon). The situation in these camps has become so dire that some woman such as Syrian Um Firas would rather accumulate mountains of debt surviving outside the camps that risk living inside one. The main concern for Firas about entering one of these camps is for her teenage daughter who has recently taken up sunbathing in hopes that her darkened skin will deter any possible rape attacks by making her less desirable (Greenwood). This is just one of the numerous ways in which Syrian woman have attempted to fight back against rape.

The most recent phenomenon that has developed in Syria to fight against rape is what is called “sutra” marriages. Simply put, these are marriages for protection (Damon). Parents who are concerned about safeguarding their daughters have begun to marry them off much sooner than planned, some as young as 13, all in order to protect them from rape or worse. One Syrian refugee, Farrah Sukkar , estimates that there has been at least a 60% increased in teenage marriages since the beginning of the civil war (Damon). However, this practice comes with consequences of its own.


            Not only are these girls emotionally unprepared for marriage but many of them are having children before their bodies are fully developed. This can lead to numerous health problems and with the current lack of foreign aid, many of these girls are left without the help they need.

Although the major conflicts such as the chemical weapons debate behind the Syrian war are of upmost importance, this does not mean that issues that have resulted from the war should be ignored. While the plight of these woman may pale in comparison to the bigger picture it is still affects a great magnitude of the population and must not be overlooked.

by MG

Works Cited:

Damon, Arwa. “No Sanctuary for Syria’s Female Refugees.” CNN: Girl Rising. June 26, 2013.


Greenwood, Phoebe. “Rape and Domestic Violence Follow Syrian Women into Refugee Camps.” The

Guardian. July 24, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/25/rape-violence-syria-women-refugee-camp

Sami, Samira, Holly A Williams, Sandra Krause, Monica A Onyango, Ann Burton, and Barbara Tomczyk. “The Syrian Crisis: the Needs of Women and Girls.” The Lancet. Nov. 8, 2013. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62034-6/fulltext?_eventId=login


2 thoughts on “Unforeseen Consequences of the Syrian Civil War for Women: Sutra Marriages

  1. Becca says:

    Great post!

    I’ve actually been following this situation and I think one the scariest things for girls is risk for trafficking and exploitation. Apparently, a lot of parents are so eager to get their daughters married off that they aren’t demanding very high bride prices prices. At first, refugee families thought it was better to marry girls to non-Syrians so that the girls could get out of the camps altogether. But there have been complaints of men marrying Syrian refugee girls “on the cheap” and then divorcing or abandoning them within months. Luckily, it seems like the refugees are getting wise to this and refusing marriage offers from foreigners.

  2. carolinemblack says:

    It is so sad to me that in order to protect their daughters from rape, which is very socially damaging, families have instead begun subjecting their daughters to “legal rape”. In other words, child marriage where these girls do not have the fully developed mental capacity to even be able to grasp the situation and make wise decisions, let alone understand consent or have the ability to consent or not to having sex within marriage, is absolutely tragic. Child marriage, breast ironing, etc. are just some of the different ways mothers especially are trying to protect their daughters from the ruin and heartbreak that rape brings, but I can’t help but wonder if the preventative measures they take are actually any better.

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