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In the name of family: This teenage girl is about to marry a 44-year-old stranger.

syrian refugee child brides
14-year-old Hanifa Amar. Image from Al Jazerra TV.

This is 14-year-old Hanifa Amar.

Hanifa and her family are Syrian refugees who have fled from the bloody fighting and civil unrest in their home country into neighbouring Lebanon.

They left behind their home. Members of their family have been killed.

But even though they now reside in a country where they are safe, their suffering is not over.

Hanifa’s family are no longer able to afford the monthly rent at their new home – and the landlord has threatened to evict them unless Hanifa becomes his second wife.

Hanifa will marry a 44-year-old stranger in order to protect her family.

“I am not obliged to marry a 44-year-old man,” Hanifa explained to Al Jazeera, “I am crying because of the situation we are in, but I have to do it so that my family can survive.”

“My whole life is destroyed,” she continued. “I don’t want to marry him, but if I do my family can stay in this house.”

Hanifa’s mother, Mysa, told Al Jazeera that the family had no choice.

“It is a difficult decision. Every mother wants to see her daughter secure and marry the man she loves,” she said, “No mother wants to hurt her child. But we have no choice.”

Mysa’s explanation is that if her family is forced to leave the house and move into a tent – as many refugees have – she thinks her husband, who has heart problems, and her asthmatic son will not survive. She is worried that the winter cold would kill them.

syrian refugee child brides
This is the house Hanifa’s family may be evicted from. Image from Al Jazeera TV.
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The family’s other son is 12-years-old, and is the family’s sole income provider. He earns a meager wage helping a mechanic – but the money he earns is barely enough to pay for food.

It was planned that Hanifa would marry her 22-year-old cousin – a man she was genuinely in love with. But he tragically died while fighting in Syria last year.

Hanifa acknowledges that she feels exploited, but she says – as her family does – that this is a sacrifice she must make.

Lebanon hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees of any country – almost 1.5 million people have fled there. But not all are registered with the United Nations, as many believe their names will be sent back to the Syrian government. Unfortunately, without registering with the UN, these people are not eligible for aid.

Matters are made worse by the Lebanese government’s refusal to establish official refugee camps, which has led to problems in the coordination and sharing of resources.

The conflict in Syria has displaced two million people. It has killed a hundred thousand people. And it has forced people to make decisions they never thought they would have to make.

It is nightmarish to imagine that a mother might decide she ‘must’ sell her daughter into marriage.

It is nightmarish to imagine that a 14-year-old girl believes she ‘must’ make this sacrifice for her family.

But it is not a nightmare. It is the reality of war.

Click here to find out more about UNICEF’s Syria Crisis appeal, to help Syrian refugee children.

Click here to find out more about CARE’s campaigns to help girls around the world, including those facing child marriage.

Please share this story to help raise awareness of Hanifa’s plight – and the plight of thousands of others who are in equally terrible situations.  

You can follow Melissa Wellham on Twitter at @melissawellham