Syrian Refugee Crisis: Girls Sold As Sex Slaves To Aged, Wealthy Arabs

By IBTimes

"We faced a lot, carried dead friends and buried them. We were broke financially and witnessed a lot of violence in Syria but I would have never thought that we would reach this level -- having people dealing with our women, selling them, selling our children." Syrian refugee

Aid workers have warned that financial hardship, poor security and a culture of early marriage has put young Syrian women at risk of exploitation in refugees' host countries.

Kilian Kleinschmidt, the head of the UN-run Zaatari camp in northern Jordan, told IBTimes UK that unscrupulous individuals took advantage of the lawlessness plaguing the camp soon after it was set up in 2012, to prey on vulnerable families.

The risk of sexual violence was so great that Syrian girls and women felt unsafe using the toilets and communal kitchens. In some instances they refused to leave the tents they shared with their families, according to a 2013 Unicef report.

To some of those families, marriage came to represent a safer option for their daughters.

As often happens, where some see struggle others see opportunity.

Foreigners, mainly men from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in their 50s, 60s and 70s, began focusing on Jordan in their search for a teenage bride at a cheap price.

Matchmakers reportedly closed the transactions for a few thousand dollars.

Kazal, an 18 year old from Homs, said she was married off to a 50-year-old man from Saudi Arabia who paid her family about $3,100.

"We weren't happily married. He treated me like a servant, and didn't respect me as a wife. He was very strict with me. I'm happy that we're divorced," she told the BBC.

"I agreed to it so I could help my family. When I got engaged I cried a lot. I won't get married for money again."

The risk of early, and in some instances sham, marriages is higher in urban areas outside the camps where 80% of the Syrian refugees live. It is harder away from the camps for the agencies to monitor what is going on, said Unicef's Jordan deputy representative Michele Servadei.

A daily life of hardship and struggle is routine also for the more than 700,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, where government is leading relief efforts, allowing only a few NGOs to provide supporting roles.

"Most don't have a work permit and thus are easily exploited," said Elena Braghieri, an aid worker with a local NGO helping refugees. "They don't have any work insurance, work lengthy shifts, are in general underpaid and, in a few instances, don't get paid at all."

Struggling to put food on the table some families ask their children to help out by working instead of going to schools they can't afford anyway. "Some kids came and told me: teacher, I can't come here anymore, my family asked me to go work with my dad because we have no money; we can't live," said Risgar Sulaiman an English teacher at a charity-funded school for refugees in the Bayramtepe suburb, north western Istanbul.

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