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Austin Cline

Saudi Men Buying Syrian Refugee Children as Brides and Prostitutes

By March 29, 2013

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Muslim Girls
Muslim Girls
Photo: Paul Chesley/Getty

Everyone's heard about the fighting in the Syrian civil war, but there have been too few stories about how the Syrian civil war has affected the women and children left behind by the men who have gone off to fight. Sadly, the impact has been pretty awful because so many have too few resources to survive. The one resource is their children - specifically, their girls. The younger the better, too, because they are fetching a good price on the Muslim bride market.

Old Saudi men, residents of one of the world's most religious nations, are among the most eager shoppers for the youngest Syrian girls. They can afford to buy multiple girls and that's legal because Islam allows for multiple wives.

Some girls are bought and sold multiple times because these patriarchs of Islamic piety only need a child bride for a few weeks. Then the girl, possibly just barely out of her teens, can be returned and sold off by her family again -- though presumably at a reduced price now. Islam doesn't permit the charging of interest, but I suppose it permits standard depreciation rates for used female bodies.

"My daughter is willing to sacrifice herself for her family," Nezar says. "If the war had not happened I would not marry my daughter to a Saudi. But the Syrians here are poor and have no money."

Nezar's daughter is 17. The Saudi groom is 70. ...

She admits the marriage market is hazardous. Most of the potential grooms offer a few dollars to leer at her daughter. "You are already selling your daughter, you might as well sell her to someone decent," she says. ...

The surplus of desperate Syrian refugees means marriage has become a buyer's market with some grooms offering as little as $100 cash for a bride.

The legal age of marriage in Jordan is 18 but some religious clerics will marry underage girls for a small fee. This puts the girls at even greater risk for exploitation because some of Um Majed's clients want a temporary union lasting a few weeks or months after which the girl is returned to her parents.

In other words, it is religiously sanctioned prostitution. "One of my brides has been married three, four times," Um Majed says. "She is 15." ...

Um Majed raises a cynical eyebrow at this innocent archetype as she strikes a match and lights a cigarette. She became a matchmaker when she approached a local Islamist charity for food and the manager asked if she "knew any pretty girls."

"I have 10 families looking for grooms," she says. "Their girls are between 12 and 21. The grooms are always in their 40s, 50s, or 70s. They want beautiful girls, the younger the better."

She pauses and takes a drag of the cigarette. "The Saudis usually ask for 12-year-olds."

As she sees it, life has become about exploiting or being exploited. "I have to feed my children," she says.

Source: The Star

I notice that Um Majed's desire to feed her children doesn't extend to selling her own children to old Saudi men. Curious, huh?

As the story indicates, many mothers are desperate because they really can't feed the family unless they sell off a daughter or two to elderly Saudi perverts. They also hope that those daughters who are sold will be cared for and possibly be in a position to send more money back to the family. That, however, requires trusting the moral character and decency of an old man who is willing to buy a child to force sex upon. That doesn't strike me as a sound plan for the future.

Most of the time, these girls are sold to men living in a country other than Syria, which means they won't have citizenship or perhaps any other legal status. They will be easily cut off from contact with family back home and they won't have any family, friends, or other support in the country of their new husbands. They are young and inexperienced, which means they will have few coping skills to deal with the situations they find themselves in. They have been raised in a patriarchal religious culture which demands extreme deference and submission from women towards men.

For those who find themselves in Saudi Arabia, every aspect of all this will be worse.

All of this creates a perfect storm for abuse of every sort -- sexual, emotional, psychological, and physical. For all practical purposes, these girls will have no rights, no options, no friends... nothing. In some cases, if the girl "disappears," no one will know and no one will want to even look for her. The men buying them know this, too.

Don't forget, though, that Islam doesn't actually treat women as inferior. The buying and selling of young girls but not boys is, I guess, an indication of how highly valued women and girls are. Right?

April 1, 2013 at 9:55 pm
(1) Andre Bretton says:

The Horror …. The Horror…..

I wandered here after searching about the peculiar Mona Elthawy tweet which I chanced upon through Time best 140 tweets , “best” albeit sounds denigrating the seriousness of the issue .

We can not do anything. If we try it will be called intervention ,subversion et al ad nauseam.

I only wish -it maybe our onlyhope- that some clerics have the good sense (maybe common even) to issue a fatwa against these practices and declare them Un-Islamic.

April 2, 2013 at 11:48 am
(2) Rationalist says:

You have just managed to describe about “A situation leading to prostitution” by tagging with a religion. Those children are obviously left with no choice. They are old to saudis who might buy them only for sex but would you get the same from non religious sanctioned prostitution? Its still better. Drugs, STDs, physical abuse, alcohol intoxication is what one gets from your kind of prostitution.

April 3, 2013 at 5:58 am
(3) Austin Cline says:

You have just managed to describe about “A situation leading to prostitution” by tagging with a religion. Those children are obviously left with no choice. They are old to saudis who might buy them only for sex but would you get the same from non religious sanctioned prostitution? Its still better. Drugs, STDs, physical abuse, alcohol intoxication is what one gets from your kind of prostitution.

Sorry, I can’t really make much sense out of this. Are you trying to argue that selling children to old rich men is better than prostitution one sees on the streets, or something?

April 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm
(4) Dave says:

This appears to be slavery in it worst form. Can’t the UN who has outlawed slavery do anything about it?

April 5, 2013 at 5:09 pm
(5) Cynthia says:

At least on the street here, for the most part, women/children who prostitute themselves do so, for the most part (this bears repeating) by choice. That’s the difference, the side affects of drug abuse, sexual disease, street violence and whatnot are complicated to say the very least having not all together too much to do with the actual prostitution but with the culture surrounding it.

What they are doing is called sexual-slavery (hoping it doesn’t include other kinds of abuse which some women here would consider is a regular thing for all women there due to lack of freedom and so forth). There’s a world of difference between the two. One could even make an argument that here marriage is a form of prostitution – or at least was – that’s changing radically, almost all but gone now as both partners work and as both partners generally have a say in what goes down in the household, that rape can happen in a marriage now and that property can be settled equally upon dissolution generally. But still there is a small percent of women who are very young who choose to marry much older men who just want them for sex in exchange for the old guys money (of course he has money – why else marry the fellow) that’s what i mean by legalized prostitution. This comes with very few side affects – mainly family folk who are resentful. But it’s their CHOICE!!!

The bottom line is when you are sold you are not free. The other bottom line is that if you don’t make the decision yourself you’re not free. One more bottom line there is no law against forcing your wife to have sex. You don’t get fair settlement of property upon dissolution. And finally some are so young that it is basically pedophilia.

I hardly can see how the two can even be compared. One is not prostitution it is slavery and the other is prostitution within whatever culture it happens to occur (and this is not always the case).

CHOICE, CHOICE and CHOICE is the difference.

April 5, 2013 at 6:42 pm
(6) Cliff Willard says:

It’s easy to see where Saudi priorities are. Billions of petroleum dollars are spent building mosques and supporting Islamic “front” organizations around the world while fellow Arabs such as Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians and others are left to live in abject poverty apparently for political purposes. Where is the “brotherhood” of Islam in all of this?

April 5, 2013 at 6:43 pm
(7) Berilac says:

These people are sick. Really sick.

April 6, 2013 at 6:27 am
(8) Sally says:

And, of course “nothing can be done” … because Saudi Arabia is a US ally.

But your observation that Um Majed won’t sell her *own* children reminds me of the cunning ‘leaders’ who will not strap bombs to *themselves.*

April 6, 2013 at 9:26 am
(9) VIKI says:


April 6, 2013 at 12:02 pm
(10) Geneva says:

The mediator just went out the window! Dirty old men misusing their power shouldn’t be in power.

April 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm
(11) Abdullahi says:

At least they are paying now.

September 13, 2013 at 3:30 pm
(12) Jeanne says:

So much for religion being a source of morality.

October 1, 2013 at 12:39 pm
(13) Daniel says:

Tell me, what does this have to do with religion? This, to me, seems about sick and corrupt people praying on the weak and needy. The woman doing the selling seems like a despicable human being as well.

This is a slavery issue, not a religious one.

October 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm
(14) Amy says:

Sounds like the fictitious ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ but some poor girls are living the nightmare… What happened to intervention #fail humanitarian aid #fail – why can’t we get our act together!?!!

October 1, 2013 at 6:59 pm
(15) Altamish Tahir says:

i don’t want people blaming all Muslims for what the Arabians do. when i say Arabian, i am implying to Saudis,Yemeni, emirates, Jordanian, Kuwaiti. these are Arabians. they consider themselves as a higher class of Muslims than other Muslims becuz Islam started in Arabia. they are so egotistic that they still live a life which is based on the mid evil Arabia. and do disgusting shit like marry dozens of young wives.

Islam says that u shud only marry more than one wife if you can mentally, financially, and physically support both wives equally, but these insult to Muslims only care about sexual pleasure, which is something that Islam extremely prohibits against. their are couple of muslim countries that need to educate people properly so their next generation doesn’t do the same thing.

October 1, 2013 at 8:53 pm
(16) Tom says:

When you debate Muslims and point out how Islamic civilization has failed in so many ways, they always come back with some line about drugs, prostitution etc. in the West and try to say their civilization is not so decadent.

Stories like this and the fact that Muslims flee to the West and not the other way around proves that Western society, for all its faults, certainly offers a better life than those in the Islamic world.

And of course, this kind of behavior should be expected when the prophet of Islam, and a man the Koran calls an example to follow, married a six year old child.

October 1, 2013 at 9:04 pm
(17) Eliza says:

Enlightened feminist? You’re defending this behavior, or at least that’s how it sounds. Just because men have sperm does not mean they are vile monsters who want to rape children, or even adults. Have some faith in the opposite sex; this is happening because religion doesn’t afford women any rights. It hates them, in fact.

October 1, 2013 at 11:53 pm
(18) Aaron says:

@VIKI You claim to be an enlightened feminist yet your words betray you as the pinnacle of female chauvinist that very regrettably the majority of the feminist front has degraded to.
You misrepresent human nature like a complete airhead with no understanding of societal structure through the course of history and the evolution of the species.
As a final note to condemn your myopia, your prolific use of capitals suggests that you are either a troll with no social value or a special kind of shitwit.

October 2, 2013 at 12:05 am
(19) Borse says:

you guys are blaming a religion based on the actions made by ppl who claim that they follow said religion..

its like blaming the law of the usa, when thieves steal day and and night. I’m not saying the law is perfect, but thieves don’t abide to all that law obviously. but still they are US citizens..

there are plenty of sick stuff happening in Syria atm, this is one of them.
but to pinpoint the blame , to the religion of Islam? is just a sad effort.

October 2, 2013 at 12:14 am
(20) JonWillieVanDyke says:

I have always said that Islam is an religion for perverts and the story above proves me right.

October 2, 2013 at 12:46 am
(21) Alin B says:

Why this article is posted under atheism? Probably because about.com does not have a subdomain called childabuse.
It is sad and we can only sit here and contemplate in quiet or raging anger.
Good job…

October 2, 2013 at 2:02 am
(22) sarah says:

i wouldnt expect any different from muslims. specially saudis. wait until the oil runs out and all they sit on is piles of rock and sand.

October 2, 2013 at 10:26 am
(23) ALLAH RAM JESUS says:

you still want religion?

October 2, 2013 at 12:42 pm
(24) Joseph Stricklin says:

Viki…I can’t even tell if you are on topic…you should prolly have someone proof-read your comments from now on.

But yea, fuck Islam in its shitty-stupid-hateful-misogynistic face.

October 2, 2013 at 10:57 pm
(25) Muammad Arif says:

I dont know that Saudi peoples (actually Government) are Muslim or not.
In a Hadith, our beloved Prophet (pbuh) said,

“He is not believing in me, the one who sleeps full while his neighbor is hungry.”

and Syria is not only our neighbor but also a brother. And If Saudi people really do this then I believe it is not proper behavior for a brother, not for an enemy also. Because, a mother, sister, daughter and wife is so much dear to us. Islam dont allow to hurt them even in a war.
May Allah give them proper vision. Ameen.

November 6, 2013 at 1:04 am
(26) Matthew Graham says:

@Aaron: Yeah, I’m going with troll.

@ALLAH RAM JESUS: Yeah, I want religion. I’m glad atheists like you are pointing out the super fucked up things that those who self-identify with a religion do so they can be brought to light, and hopefully, someone somewhere will initiate the action to put a stop to shit like this. However, to insinuate something like this typifies a religion? That’s a straw man of sorts at best (or whatever the logical fallacy is called; I really don’t give a fuck about the term;) at best, and you should know better. Then again, this is the internet, and we’re arguing on it, so maybe you don’t.

Or maybe you are a troll, but I didn’t recognize it due to your lowercase lettering. In which case, congratulations. You win at the internet.

@ Joseph Stricklin: Borse had it right. Again, you choose to define a religion by those individuals who claim it only in name and have little regard for the actual principles of the religion that don’t suit their selfish needs. Well, I got news for you: That describes everyone everywhere who does this kind of shit, irrespective of religion or lack thereof. It’s not just Islam. Hell, I’m not even Muslim myself, but ignorant comments like “fuck Islam in its shitty-stupid-hateful-misogynistic face” lead me to believe that you really don’t know much about the actual religion of Islam. I’m not saying I do, but I am saying you don’t.

Or maybe you too are a troll, but I didn’t recognize it due to your lowercase lettering as well. In which case, congratulations. You also win at the internet.

Get your shit together, atheists; come at us with real arguments, not the same old fallacious ones.

November 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm
(27) toor says:

Wars have ever been bringning such curses, no matter it is in the islam or out of islam. Slavery adultry have ever been personal desires. It does not belong to any religion. Religons are for the welfare of humankind and same is islam. We should just pray for no wars so nobody could exploit the others….

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