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Brides for 'Sale'

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The offer comes via BlackBerry Messenger: "If you want to marry a beautiful fair young Syrian woman, contact ..." and a number is provided.

As the conflict in Syria rages on, with no respite in sight, desperation is hitting Syrians hard. And there are many around to take full advantage of it.

But to actually receive a message offering Syrian brides showed me just how bad the situation has now become.

The message was forwarded to me by a friend from Saudi Arabia, who said it wasn't the first time he had received such a message in the past year.

"They promise to deliver her to you safe and sound for a fee," he said. "I have a friend of a friend who got himself a young Syrian bride."

In that case the groom is 53, the bride is 19. She has apparently been treated well, so far, and her family will be able to leave their refugee camp and go to Saudi Arabia, thanks to her new husband's contacts.

Ultimately, this is why anyone would even consider being married off to an older complete stranger in a different country -- to save her loved ones. Such a marriage is a survival contract, and "conflict brides" are tragically good business.

Whenever a country is hit by poverty or tragedy, expect to see some kind of human trafficking of its most vulnerable groups, ie: women and children.

In the case of Syria, the latest country in the Middle East at war, it is the women and young girls that have become targets.

If you Google "Syrian brides" you get sites where you can find people to help you get into refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey to find a "suitable loyal mate."

Type that in Arabic, and you get all sorts of offers. Some sites promise help in both finding a bride and sorting out all the paperwork.

"Syrian women are known for their beauty and loyalty to their husbands. Get yourself a bride that will not complain," stated one forum offering services in matchmaking the women with interested grooms.

There isn't an age limit either. She can be as young as 12, and the potential groom as old as 70 if not more.

It never ceases to surprise me how even in the world's most dangerous areas, people find ways to make profit.

But in truth all that is new here is the huge scale and the media attention. When I lived in Saudi Arabia I heard many stories of older men going to poor villages in Syria to find brides.

The mother of a friend of mine was such a bride. I asked my friend about it recently, and learnt that her father, now deceased, was about 60 when he went to Syria and found her mother, who had just turned 20.

Of course, that case did not have the desperation we see in Syria today. But her mother's family was very poor, the father had a terminal illness and she had eight sisters and a mother desperate to find them a "better future".

It all depends on your definition of happiness. For some, a peaceful home and secure future are enough. My friend's mother began married life without friends or family, but made the most of it over the years and has been relatively happy.

We are not all lucky enough to have choices in life. Sometimes there is only one way out. Nobody should be judged for taking that route.

I remember seeing my friend being picked on by members of the extended family, as "the one with a Syrian mother." People would mention that her mother had married an older man "for money."

Now I am hearing unkind and judgmental statements all over again about new Syrian brides coming to the Arabian Peninsula states.

When I raised the topic with a group of women from several Gulf states, their reaction showed that they believe some of these Syrian women have plotted and schemed. They were adamant that we should not be "sympathetic" to the Syrians' plight.

"They always want to marry a rich Khaleeji, and now they can use the conflict to their advantage," said a Kuwaiti friend. This harsh-sounding comment had been triggered when she had overheard some Syrian women talking about how it is "easier" to marry Gulf men now.

"One even said she tells men she can't go back to Syria due to the conflict and so she is looking for a husband here," she said, fuming.

There are different sides to every story, and they should not be muddled and mixed up.
I notice that the men are not blamed as much as the women. But it is the men, often very old and already married, who are going after Syrian brides, and since they know the women are desperate, they can get them to agree to anything.

Almost every woman dreams of love and a beautiful wedding. The Syrian brides being offered up from camps have lost that dream. Syrians have lost almost all of their dreams.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the children are also becoming victims of the violence, with some becoming violent themselves.

This video of eight-year-old Ahmed, who is on the front line fighting and shooting, is one example to be captured by the media.

Dreams and chances of a normal childhood for Syrian kids have also been destroyed.

Rym Tina Ghazal is a senior feature writer and columnist for the National Newspaper. She is working on her second book, Single in the City.

This post was originally published by The National.