Imagine a 15-year-old child married and having babies; it’s a child raising children,” said Hayat Mahmoud, a lawyer, as she facilitated a two-hour session on child marriage at the Al-Daraj Women’s Programme Centre. The session is one of 14 awareness-raising sessions that were held from 9 to 12 July across the Gaza Strip as part of ‘Girls Not Brides: End Child Marriage’, an initiative implemented by the UNRWA relief and social services programme in cooperation with Women’s Programme Centres (WPCs) across Gaza to highlight the psychological and social impact of child marriage, raise community awareness, and influence the community’s decision-makers.
Child marriage is defined as a formal marriage or informal union before at least one of the partners has reached the age of 18. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), as of the end of 2015, 23.7 per cent of the total married population in the Gaza Strip had gotten married before the age of 18. A 2015 study on child marriage in the Gaza Strip by the Women Affairs Centre, a non-governmental organization (NGO), suggests that the drivers of child marriage are socioeconomic factors, such as having multiple daughters, poverty and harmful patriarchal norms that support forced marriage between first-degree relatives.
“Child marriage is a serious problem facing the community,” said Hayat. “It clearly violates human and children’s rights. Children lose their right to an education, to play and to choose.”
The session at the Al-Daraj WPC was divided into four parts: the psychological and social impact of child marriage, reproductive health, law, and religious perspectives. At the end of the session, a short video on early marriage was shown, followed by a discussion. The confidential and small-group setting encouraged the women to tell their stories and exchange experiences. “I married when I was only 15 years old and had my first child when I was only 16; this killed my childhood. I don’t want my daughter to experience the same,” said Salwa, one of the session’s participants.
At the end of the campaign, a seminar will be conducted targeting community leaders, religious persons, and interested persons from the community to highlight the phenomenon of child marriage and the recommend mechanisms to confront it.
“Many uneducated women who are illiterate because early marriage led to their education being truncated visit the Women’s Programme Centres. Increased awareness will not eliminate child marriage, but it will reduce it. Early marriage will be eliminated through the collective efforts of all organizations. I dream of life without child marriage,” said Hayat.
Women’s Programme Centres aim to assist the empowerment of Palestine refugee women, facilitate network-building, and strengthen their roles and active participation in the community. The Agency’s RSSP supports the work of seven independent WPCs in refugee camps across the Gaza Strip.