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Raneem Abras moved with her family from Aleppo in Syria to the Chouf mountains in Lebanon three years ago, to escape the conflict raging in her hometown. The eldest of five, Raneem heard about the INTERSOS-UNFPA youth program from neighbors and was curious to know what kind of information circulated in the awareness sessions.

“After every session I attend, I wish I could go around educating everyone I know”, she says, boasting a bright smile from under the tree where she is sitting at the INTERSOS centre in Chouf.

“These long discussions about marriage and having babies were particularly useful,”

She looks at her mother, Um Abdo, who nods her head in approval. “I am so glad Raneem heard these things, I had told her many times before that I would never allow her to get married young”, says the mother firmly. Um Abdo talks about how she herself had been formally engaged at age 12 to her 18 year old cousin back in Syria. Luckily, the child in her fought her parents’ wish to see her married and she was able to break the engagement off and wait until she met her current husband and the father of her five children, several years later. “Several people approached me to ask about Raneem, but my husband and I told them off”, she says, laughing heartily. “You should see Raneem explaining to them the consequences of early marriage on a woman’s health, I was so happy listening to her”.

Um Abdo looks at her daughter lovingly. “I will only accept that Raneem gets married when I am sure that she is mature enough for such a responsibility. But for now, I still see her as a child.”

Raneem’s father, Abo Adbo, is fully on board. “I would not even allow my sons to get married young,” he exclaims. “Marriage means responsibilities and being up to the task. How can I expect children to act as grown-ups when they are not yet ready for it?”

Of the nearly five million people who have fled Syria because of the conflict, more than a million are registered as refugees in Lebanon, according to UNHCR. They live in over 1,700 communities and locations across the country, often sharing small basic lodgings with other refugee families in overcrowded conditions.

UNFPA works within host communities to respond to needs mostly in the fields of sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence, and jointly runs programmes with NGOs in Lebanon to help empower youth through activities that build their awareness on issues essential to youth well-being such as gender based violence, risks of early marriage, sexual reproductive health, and gender equality. UNFPA and INTERSOS have been targeting youth since 2015 using the Peer to Peer techniques where young people are trained on reaching out and talking to fellow young people, raising their awareness about issues of health in general and reproductive health in particular, gender-based violence through a life skills approach.

Three groups of young men and women around the area of Mount Lebanon are actively engaging with youth in their age and community on these issues, using a safe space especially set-up for these young boys and girls to meet, acquire, and transfer life skills and specific knowledge and capacities among each other. To date, the group of Youth Peers like Raneem has been able to reach out and engage with over 1,300 young men and women in Mount Lebanon.

Formal UN figures show that some 3 million girls got married in the Arab region in 2015 before they turned 18, especially those living in situations of humanitarian crises. In Lebanon, and out of the nearly 70,000 adolescent girls registered as refugees from Syria, 23% of them married before 18 years of age.

The involvement of parents, older family members, boys and men in the family is crucial to effectively changing some social practices, particularly on early marriage, early pregnancy and GBV.