Heather Saul, Independent, May 12, 2015
Families in Isis’ stronghold in Libya are being forced to marry off girls as young as 12 to jihadists in exchange for protection, local doctors and networks have claimed.
Activists say the number of underage marriages is escalating in the city of Derna as foreign fighters continue to infiltrate the area after jihadists pledged allegiance to Isis in October.
Worryingly, clinics are also recording growing numbers of miscarriages and complications during labour and birth as children are taken by fighters as second or third wives.
Asmaa Said, a Libyan women’s rights activist for the 1325 Network, which is located outside of the city, has been collecting data on girls being forced into unions with fighters. Ms Said said establishing how many girls are being married off is complicated by the presence of Isis members in clinics which have been taken over by the group.
“Just in the clinics that we are able to monitor, we are seeing four to five cases of under-age brides every week and it’s getting worse. There is also the spread of STDs and the growing prevalence of miscarriages, premature and stillbirths,” she told The Times.
One local gynaecologist said girls are so young they often have no idea what is happing to them. “We see girls who are bleeding heavily from their genital area. Some of them don’t know what sex is–they come into the clinic playing with their dolls.”
An activist in Derna said child weddings were most common in the poorer neighbourhoods of Saida Khadija and Embakh. He said families there had come to perceive marrying their daughters off as a way of protecting them from even worse fates.
“It’s mainly about power and protection–you notice a change in the status of the families,” he said. “Before they would hide but after the girls are married to the jihadist commanders they move more easily about town. Some of them get nice cars and nice houses too. They see it as a way of protecting their girls from something worse.”
In February, activists in Raqqa, the group’s Syrian stronghold, said fighters were taking advantage of poverty-stricken families by offering high dowries in exchange for marrying their daughters. They claimed fighters would often take more than one wife and search for ‘sabaya’ – women who have been kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.