I’m a Child but I Was Engaged
By Rana Kassem with Rana Al Hassan and Suzanne Abd El Hadi

I’m a girl who, like most girls in Shatila , became engaged while I was still a child. Last winter I was thirteen year old and I didn’t used to think of the tragedies of the miserable life we lead in the camp. My main concerns were Dabkeh dancing and playing with my friends. One day I went on a trip with Bayt Atfal Assoumoud and I caught the eye of a man I didn’t know. So he asked about me, was introduced to the household, and asked for my hand in marriage. My mother agreed to the match without asking for my opinion. Because of my father’s death and our poor living conditions, my mother’s opinion was all what mattered. She insisted on my getting engaged and I gave in. The engagement period was one of the cruelest periods of my life. They would sometimes call me while I was playing with my friends because the man has come to visit us and I was supposed to receive him. I used to be very afraid of him and I hated him. Because of this fear I often got sick: every time I’d saw him I’d had a fever and start crying. I imagined him as the monster who scares children. Since I was always sick, I managed to rid myself of the nightmare.

So I didn’t get married at fourteen like most other girls in Shatila, some of whom think that engagement may be a way out of the prison of the camp. Girls here have nowhere to play. Our parents are poor and cannot buy us clothes or take us on trips outside the camp. So because of their parents’ poor living conditions, girls are married off while they are still children so that their parents stop worrying about them. Mostly the groom is a teenager and lives in the camp. Often he has started working at 10 or 13, and has no future to build, so he gets engaged and marries to amuse himself, since he has no other source of amusement. I’d like to advise all parents not to consent to their daughters’ marrying before they are 18.