Some Syrian refugees, fleeing the devastation in their home country after more than 18 months of a brutal government crackdown against rebels, are being forced to sell off their daughters, especially to wealthy Libyans, for much-needed cash.
According to a report from BBC, some Libyans have even asked Syrian refugees in the country for underage girls as potential brides.
Hundreds of Syrians have fled to the Libyan city of Benghazi, almost 1,000 miles from Damascus, and many are desperate to raise money to survive. Their Syrian daughters -- renowned for their beauty -- have become a valuable asset.
"We arrived in Benghazi two months ago, and last month a Libyan man knocked at my door and asked whether I had a daughter or a sister to marry in return for money," Ahmed Atrash, a Syrian refugee now working as a carpenter in Libya, told the BBC. "I laughed and told him yes, I do have a two-year-old daughter.
"[The Libyan man] became angry, then I told him, 'Fear God! We sought refuge and protection in your country not to be humiliated," Atrash added. "[Libyans] are exploiting our financial distress. Many families here cannot provide even a square meal for their children."
However, a Muslim cleric defends such marriages between wealthy Libyans and desperate Syrians.
"There is nothing wrong in such marriages if the men are financially able, whether they are single or married," said Sheikh Ashraf Al-Aqrabi, imam of the Garyounis Mosque in Libya. "This is a religious duty as long as it is done by mutual consent. We must encourage Libyans to help protect such vulnerable families, because they might be forced into prostitution."
Atrash counters that these marriages amount to “modern-day slavery.”
"If they were really honest, they would come along with their mothers and fathers, not on their own,” he added. “This is not a decent way to propose to respectable families in all Muslim societies. Syrian women escaped from rapes by Bashar al-Assad's thugs to face rapes in the name of religion.”
BBC stated that the dowry for a Syrian woman only amounts to a few hundred dollars, while a prospective Libyan bride would demand as much as $19,000.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide, or RNW, reported that some Libyan agencies are facilitating arranged marriages between Libyan men and Syrian refugee girls. Applicants have to pay a registration fee of about $390 and are then asked what kind of woman they are look for and details of their financial status.
RNW also noted that Arab media and Facebook have engaged in lively debates over the issue of Syrian girls being forced to wed.
“People do not talk about anything else these days but about Syrian girls you could marry for one or two hundred pounds.” a Jordanian columnist named Maher Abu Tayer said, according to RNW.
Yanar Mohammed, a women's rights activist from Iraq, lamented the whole situation.
“A man in any society would not refuse a girl who is presented to him on a silver platter,” she said. “Especially when it is said to be a national or religious duty to marry her to save her honor, he will seize that opportunity.”
The Syrian Revolutionary Union in Benghazi estimates that about 1,000 Syrian refugees are now residing in the city, although Libya has no formal organization in place to properly host the Syrians. At least a quarter of a million Syrians have fled the country since the outbreak of the revolt against Assad; however, the bulk of them have relocated to Turkey and Jordan.