BEIRUT: In a study published this week entitled “Adolescent Girls in Crisis: Voices from Beirut,” the Plan International organization reported that adolescent refugee girls face high levels of physical and sexual harassment, problems with access to health care and education, along with family pressure to work or become married by early teens.
The study noted in particular that within the urban refugee communities, adolescent girls are impacted by the surrounding crisis in ways that are not only different from adolescent boys and women, but also, in ways that are often overlooked.
This report explored the experiences of adolescent girls - within two age brackets of 10 to 14 and 15 to 19 years old. It surveyed 400 girls in fall 2018.
Plan International, a children and girls equality and empowerment organization seeks to amplify their voices “and perceptions of their lives and communities” and presents their views on how the humanitarian sector might respond to the challenges they face.
The study’s findings are drawn from research conducted with adolescent girls and their communities in Beirut and its suburbs, specifically Shatila, Bourj Al Barajneh, and Bourj Hammoud, during October and November 2018.
None of the findings, while in some ways expected given the economic and social conditions of the over 1.5 million refugees, predict an absolute positive outcome of adolescent refugee girls.
At home and in public spaces girls report experiencing, witnessing, and perpetrating violence. Their expectation and perception of harassment and sexual violence against girls is particularly high.
Adolescent girls also reported limited freedom of movement both in their communities and in Beirut. This is primarily due to the security concerns of the girls and their parents, with girls reporting high levels of street harassment and feeling unsafe to use public transport.
“We’re too afraid [to go out alone]. There are always drunk men who harass us and even the ones who aren’t drunk harass us,” an 18-year-old Syrian girl from Bourj Al Barajneh told researchers.
A 10-year-old Lebanese girl in Bourj Hammoud said: “There are kidnapping of kids and girls, so I don’t like to leave our house.”
The research results additionally reported that girls faced difficulties in accessing education and these were heightened for more recently arrived refugees and as girls get older. Girls not attending school attribute this to lack of parental permission, limited places, cost, administrative barriers to enrolment (including those associated with work and living migration), and child marriage.
Accordingly, as girls grow older, their attendance plummets, based on all the above factors. Plan International reported that 80 percent of 10 to 14-year-old boys go to school on a regular basis, while only 39 percent of 15 to 19-year-old girls do so.
Furthermore, those polled responded overwhelmingly that they receive routine medical attention when needed, but only half of those with significant or long-term health concerns report receiving adequate healthcare. This appears to be particularly high for Syrian girls.
Girls also reported receiving low levels of sexual and reproductive healthcare, “which is worrying considering the high levels of early marriage and pregnancy, and the indications of sexual violence,” the study reported.
In addition, young girls reported high levels of unhappiness and loneliness. The levels increase as they became older. There are barriers to playing and socializing with their peers and in accessing mental health and psychosocial support and protection services - as well as in joining activities at community centers, schools, and health facilities.
The study also revealed that the overall communities where those girls live face discrimination, and this is even more pronounced among recent refugee populations: discrimination occurs in terms of access to services and resources, and in inter-community dynamics. Also, adolescent girls stated that their rights and opportunities are more restricted as they get older. Their attitudes also become more negative. This is evident in access to education, safety, and experiences of harassment, access to community services, and freedom of movement.
“Despite the challenges they face adolescent girls are optimistic. They are ambitious for their own futures and are engaged with the social, political and cultural issues that affect their lives," according to the report.
"It is clear from these findings that while teenage girls have unique vulnerabilities, they also have huge potential," Plan International said.
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