Keep teenage girls in refugee camps safe, Bishop of Gloucester urges the Government

11 January 2019

Young girls in refugee camps are at high risk of prostitution and forced marriage

ANAS ALKHARBOUTI/PA

Syrian girls lean on a cistern at a camp for displaced Syrians in the Northern countryside of Idlib, near the Syrian-Turkish border, last month

Syrian girls lean on a cistern at a camp for displaced Syrians in the Northern countryside of Idlib, near the Syrian-Turkish border, last month

THE Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has called on the Government to target specific aid to help teenage girls in refugee camps, who are at high risk of prostitution and forced marriage.

In a debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday, Bishop Treweek said that more support was needed for girls while they were in camps, in order to keep them physically safe, and during rehabilitation and reconstruction, post-conflict.

“Before, during, and after conflict, girls face both physical and sexual violence,” she said. “It is important to note that that follows adolescent girls when they flee from conflict. There is a high risk of sexual abuse in overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe refugee areas and camps. Girls not only face prostitution and the risk of early marriage, but also isolation and lack of access to health care and psychological support.”

She told peers of her meeting with a Syrian refugee, Muzoon Almellehan, who described how, while she was in a refugee camp in Jordan, she went from tent to tent telling parents that their daughters “needed teachers, not husbands”.

Bishop Treweek also called on the Government to work more closely with organisations such as the Mothers’ Union to support girls in countries in conflict, and ratify the Istanbul Convention, which outlines minimum standards for a state’s response to violence against women and girls.

The debate was tabled by the Conservative Baroness Fiona Hodgson, who said that it was rare for the humanitarian sector to consider specifically the needs of adolescent girls, although they were disproportionately affected by conflict. She quoted UNICEF figures which showed that 65 per cent of Yemeni girls were now married before the age of 18, compared with 50 per cent before the current conflict broke out.

Baroness Joyce Anelay said that, in South Sudan, 60 per cent of sexual assaults were on girls aged 18 or under, and that “a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than complete her education”.

Responding for the Government, Lord Courtown said: “The Government will continue to lead by example in demonstrating how gender equality and a focus on the rights of adolescent girls is an investment in peace, security, and prosperity.”

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