‘I was 9 years old when a man decided he wanted to marry me’
After war broke out in her home in Syria, 14-year-old Rawan moved to Turkey with her mother and brothers. She writes about her mother’s bravery to save her from an unwanted marriage — and why she’s happy to be in school.
I was 9 years old when a man I did not know decided he wanted to marry me. I was with my mother at her job selling cosmetics when the man first saw me. This was six years ago when my family was still living in Aleppo, Syria.
Shortly after, I moved with my family to Turkey because of the war at home, but we had to return to Syria when we couldn’t pay the rent. That’s when my father disappeared. He left one day to look for a job and we have not seen him since. A year and a half ago, my mother, brother and I came back to Turkey with my uncle.
Still, even in our new home, the man’s family found us and asked me to marry their son. My mother did not support the marriage. I was too young, she said. The man was 28, twice my age. She tried to reason with my grandfather and uncle. But they told her that I should marry that man and become a housewife. They forced me to wear a ring.
The man did not leave me alone and would come to my school to see me. My mother spoke with the administrators and they arranged for a school bus to pick me up at home and take me directly to school so I wouldn’t have to see him.
Luckily my mother is strong. She stood up to them and broke off the engagement.
Then in the middle of the night, 10 armed men came to our home and threatened us. The man told my mother: “I will take your daughter even if you are dead or alive.” She said: “You can only take my daughter over my dead body.” The man tried to convince me to go through with the marriage by promising to take care of me and buy me clothes.
Our neighbors heard the attack and came in to rescue us. One of them was shot trying to help. The men demanded we pay them back for the cost of the ring, 5,000 Turkish liras. My mother borrowed the money from our neighbour, a debt she is still paying back.
After they received the money, the men left and we have thankfully not seen them since.
Now I am in eighth grade and I like school a lot. It is important for me to reach my dream of being a TV actress, though my mother wants me to be a doctor.
I am able to stay in school because I have a scholarship from Mavi Kalem. I no longer have to make clothing to earn money to support my education. Now I can stay focused on my classes. I am happy to put the past behind me and work toward a future I choose.
Malala Fund supports the work of Gulmakai Champion Gamze Karadag Koc and her organisation Mavi Kalem, which works to improve access to school for Syrian refugee girls living in Turkey. Learn more about Malala Fund’s work in the Syria region here.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rawan is a 14-year-old Syrian refugee student living in Lebanon and hopes to become an actress.