The Struggle Against Early Marriage

Spring 2023

Photo above courtesy of Amenah Portrait Exhibit in Van Dyck Hall, 3rd floor Inspiring portraits of Syrian refugee girls who participated in the Amenah Project.

The civil war in Syria has devastated the country and created the world’s largest refugee crisis. The consequences of this conflict have had ripple effects worldwide, but one of the unforeseen repercussions of the crisis has been the rise in early marriages among Syrian refugee girls.

A recent study by AUB’s Amenah Project found that child marriage rates among Syrian refugee girls have increased four times since the start of the conflict. In Lebanon, 24 percent of refugee girls between the ages of 15 and 17 are now married, up from 6 percent before the war. “The risk of early marriage is a product of poverty, displacement, and a patriarchal social structure, ” says Dr. Sawsan Abdulrahim, principal investigator of the Amenah Project. “It’s a cycle of disadvantage where the disadvantage leads to early marriage, and early marriage leads to poverty. ”

The Amenah Project is an intervention study that aims to mitigate the drivers of early marriage among Syrian refugee adolescent girls in Lebanon. It is being conducted by an interdisciplinary team of researchers in the Faculty of Health Sciences. “The idea of the Amenah Project is not only to educate girls about the consequences of early marriage but to address some of the social determinants of early marriage, ” says Dr. Abdulrahim. To do so, the team teaches educational workshops in the camps and piloted 16 modules on assertive communication and decisionmaking, health and hygiene during puberty, gender equity and rights, and relationships and marriage.

Early intervention is critical to keeping Syrian refugee girls from early marriage and out of poverty. Creating community buy-in among the refugees is essential for success, and so these sessions are delivered by trained Syrian community workers. With the low enrollment rates of young Syrian girls in school, equipping them with knowledge becomes an essential engine for dismantling the cycle of disadvantage and poverty. Having members from the community as part of the solution in the workshops fuels the best outcomes.

The research at AUB by Dr. Abdulrahim and her team is creating a model for how effective change can be enacted on the ground through scholarship and community involvement. “Making an impact is just as important as the generation of knowledge. In fact, knowledge generation should be based on creating positive social impact, ” says Dr. Abdulrahim.


  • 24% of Syrian refugee girls are married;
  • 50% of Syrian refugee girls are not enrolled in school;
  • 19% of secondary school-age Syrian children are enrolled in school;
  • 10% of 15- to 17-year old Syrian girls are not enrolled in school due to being married.