It is the seventh year since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011 and there has been a huge loss of lives and many people have been displaced. Literally, every day, we hear news of people being killed and the innocent faces of children who are affected due to this gruesome war haunt us. The international media keeps reflecting the war situation often but is there nothing that can be done to stop it?
Since the war, many people have been displaced. According to United Nations, High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 5 million people have fled Syria since 2011, seeking safety in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. Over 6.3 million people are internally displaced and 4.53 million are in hard to reach and besieged areas, 13.5 million people are in need of urgent help and as the war continues, the number is rising up every single day. Many of the families in the war-hit zone are seeking refuge in other countries and fleeing from the war hit zone and among them, women and children are more vulnerable. It cannot be neglected that where ever there are wars, sexual crimes are on a rise.
Among Syrian refugees, women and girls comprise the majority; women are 50.7 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan and 52.5 per cent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. According to the International Federation for Human Rights, there is a significant evidence that suggests that there is a huge number of women and girls who have been victims of rape, sexual violence, sexual assault, gender based violence, abuse, early marriage, etc. Almost one in every three women is a victim of rape and sexual violence. The International Rescue Committee described ‘rape as a significant and disturbing’ feature of the Syrian civil war. There have also been reports of crimes of sexual violence committed by the government, anti-government armed groups and other parties. So, many women are fleeing along with their children and other family members to avoid being a victim. But the escape is not easy as well, many of the women are widows with children and the journey to cross the road to reach neighbouring countries is difficult. Many times, during the journey, they are victims of sexual assaults and rape and many times they offer to have sex to reach to a safe destination, pay for the travel, secure food, and other basic necessities and keep their children safe. In addition to rape, girls and women are also subject to forced prostitution and trafficking during times of war.
Many times, the sexual assaults and violence cases are not reported. According to the International Federation for Human Rights, most of the time survivors are extremely reluctant to talk about their experiences, as it comes with a social stigma. Women and girls are often reluctant to tell anyone about the violence for fear of being blamed for causing the violence or other consequences such as inciting further violence, being divorced and not being able to see their children, among others.
In a study, a small number of women participants also discussed that they were sometimes forced by their husbands to have sexual relations with other men for money.
Sexual assaults and rapes not only have a physiological impact but health hazards as well. According to UNICEF, there is a high risk of infection of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS and victims of sexual violence and rape are more vulnerable to these.
While speaking about child marriage, many families find it more convenient to get their daughters married at an early age to any man they find can take care of her, so they can get rid of worrying about her safety. In Jordan, for instance, marriages involving Syrian children rose from 18 to 25 per cent between 2012 and 2013, with 48 per cent involving girls married to men at least 10 years older than them. Due to early marriage, there are health problems that many young women are facing. For many, their education is disrupted due to family responsibilities and early pregnancies.
There are many NGOs and government and other agencies which are working for the refugees, but the situation is worsening day-by-day and the war doesn’t seem to end anytime soon due to the political scenario around the globe. So the plight of refugees, especially women and children, is of great concern. There is a need for more agencies to come forward and help the refugees in need. And let’s hope countries like United States of America and others come together to fight the Islamic State and stop the war so that people can live peacefully and childhoods are not shattered.