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Arranged Marriages a Thriving Business

But some say women are being tricked into entering temporary unions.

By Alia Turki Al-Rabeo

Abu Jamal sees himself to be a modern day matchmaker – for profit.

Abu Jamal, 40, who declined to give his real name, operates an unlicensed business which facilitates marriages between young Syrian women and much older men who travel from the Gulf states in search of foreign brides.

He said that the first marriage he helped to arrange was between Samira, a 22-year-old woman from the Damascus countryside, and a Saudi Arabian man almost 50 years her senior.

Samira’s parents came to him with a picture of their daughter and asked him to find her a wealthy husband, he said.

“[Then] a young man from Saudi Arabia came to me and said he wanted to find a fourth wife for his 73-year-old father,” said Abu Jamal.

“For 200 US dollars, I agreed to look for a girl who would suit him. The son liked Samira’s picture, and a week later, he and his father had filled out all of the necessary paperwork and performed a marriage ceremony so they could take the new bride home with them immediately.”

Marriage-brokering services are becoming increasing popular both for men from the Gulf as well as for low-income Syrian women, who hope that paying someone to find them a spouse will lift them out of a life of poverty, according to Abu Jamal.

Last year, the Saudi Arabian interior ministry announced that it had issued more than 6,600 permits for Saudis seeking to marry foreign women. The ministry pointed out that most of the applications for marriage licenses were from men seeking to wed Syrian women.

The procedure is straightforward, said Abu Jamal.

“The groom comes to my office in Damascus and we sit with the family of the girl he has picked out from my pictures,” he explained.

He added that during the meeting, the bride’s family will ask the groom about his religious beliefs and observe his manners and demeanour.

“Then an attorney, who is a Sharia law studies graduate, signs the contract. The next day, we register the contract in court and send it to the embassy of the groom’s country of origin to be processed.”

Arranging marriages can be a lucrative line of work.

Faris Suleiman al-Miqdad, who has a reputation as one of Syria’s leading matchmakers, said that every year, he marries about 50 Syrian women to Gulf men, mainly Saudis. He takes a commission from the groom of about 1,500 to 5,000 Saudi riyals or about 300 to 1,300 US dollars.

Al-Miqdad, from the Dara province in southern Syria, said he receives calls from Gulf men and notes down their description and qualifications. He then provides them with the details of some young women, although without showing them pictures, in order to “protect the honour of these girls”.

“I will typically pick ten homes for a potential groom to visit in different provinces,” he said, adding that he tends to find marriageable women in rural rather than urban areas, including the countryside around Dara, Damascus, Homs, Hamat, and Aleppo.

Al-Miqdad said his motivation was “to eliminate irreligious practices such as adultery and spinsterhood”.

In Syria, there is stigma attached to women who stay single.

Roughly 25 per cent of Syrian women are unmarried, according to the national statistical agency.

Wisal, a 29-year-old dentist in Damascus, said she married a Saudi doctor whom she met through a matchmaker to avoid this stigma.

“I am past the normal marrying age in my country,” she said.

She said matchmaking offices provided a valuable service for women.

“I think they make things easier for girls in Syria. They discourage them from having irreligious relationships,” said Wisal.

Like Abu Jamal, Ahmed al-Barqawi, a philosophy and sociology professor at Damascus university, said poverty was another factor motivating families who agree to find foreign grooms for their daughters.

“With our economy the way it is now, I think many young women are looking for a way to leave the country and find financial security elsewhere.

“Marrying a Gulf man and moving to his country is an easy way to make this happen,” he said.

However, he also pointed out that marriages brokered by matchmakers are not always meant to last.

Al-Barqawi explained that some were only temporary arrangements, in which the bride received a sum of money in return for spending time with the man.

In Syria, it is relatively easy to get a divorce.

“The phenomenon [of temporary marriages] often reaches a peak during the summer months, when men from Gulf states travel to Syria on holidays,” said Al-Barqawi.

While many consider these short-term marriage arrangements to be immoral and contrary to the precepts of Islam, the matchmakers who facilitate them argue that having a sexual relationship outside marriage is far worse.

Meanwhile, others warn that Syrian brides are sometimes duped into thinking that they are entering into a permanent marriage when the man has other intentions.

Damascus-based analyst Dr Mohamed Hussein pointed to the experience of 19-year-old Wafa, who grew up in the Damascus countryside and experienced firsthand the downsides of a brief marriage.

“Her Saudi ex-husband married her for two months during his summer vacation in Syria through a matchmaking office,” said Hussein. “He then divorced her, leaving her pregnant and with very few options.”

Hussein called for regulations to be introduced to protect Syrian women.

“There should be a law banning Syrian women from marrying Gulf men without specific preconditions,” he said.

Damascus-based attorney Kinda al-Shammat said that match-making services were not held liable for arranging such marriages, because they can usually produce a marriage certificate to show that the procedure was legal.

He said that there would be too much opposition to any initiative to introduce licensing procedures – both from the authorities, and from matchmaking services themselves.

“The government doesn’t want to officially condone matchmaking [by establishing licensing procedures] because of these cases of short-term marriages, which would be akin to state-sponsored prostitution,” he said.

“And matchmakers don’t want to be licensed for the same reason – a fear they could be held legally responsible for such arrangements.”

Yet Al-Shammat said that something should be done to prevent women being exploited in such arrangements.

“There needs to be a campaign to raise awareness in schools, universities, public places and poor neighborhoods to warn against the dangers of this kind of marriage,” he said.

“Otherwise, women will be tricked into entering relations with men under the pretext of marriage, while these so-called matchmakers… cash in.”

Comments

NyamburaFoley's picture

Alia,

Arranged marriages is a pain in the backside. It's sad how the 'predators' always target rural women as they do not know any better. It's sad when I hear educated women opting to take this route to avoid social connotations attached to being a spinster. Sad that educated women are willing to marry a stranger for financial gain!!

There needs to be an intervention before it gets ugly.

Thanks for posting this piece. I find it very informative and eye-opening.

Warm regards,

Nyambura

alia's picture

Thanks my dear Nyambura .

Thanks my dear Nyambura . When i posted this , i wanted to explain one important idea that is the educated and not educated women are facing the same future, because of the bad ideas the society have .We should change alot of things in the society to stop abusing women .

My love
Alia

Nusrat Ara's picture

It is a sorry state of

It is a sorry state of affairs and the price has to be paid by who else THE WOMEN.

Regards

Nusrat

alia's picture

Dear Nusrat Thanks so much

Dear Nusrat

Thanks so much to find time and read my story . Unfortunaetly Women are always the vicitms .But you know somtimes I think that it is the fault of women too , because they are not strong enough .Some girls love to play this role that they are weak and cannot do anything to change society or themselves .

We get tried from paying the price all the time .I think women should move more quickly now ,and don't wait for anyone one to help them . Women should help themselves by themselves .

My love
Alia

mconing's picture

Complexities

I'm curious about all the many complexities of both the benefits and downfalls of arranged marriages. My current sociology professor has stated many times she thinks arranged marriages are "easier", and I can't help but cringe, yet in another class a fellow student mentioned it giving women mobility, an idea that I haven't stopped thinking about. I'm interested in how other women would weigh in on these arguments.

MC

noreens's picture

what does the student mean by

what does the student mean by arranged marriages give a woman mobility?

noreen

alia's picture

My dear Mooning , the new

My dear Mooning , the new researchers say that women can find thier freedom or the equality with men when they money . Because in this way they can be more self -depent and can achieve alot of things like education , work ...etc .

You know in my next story about arranged marriage , i would talk to those women more and hear how they are seeing themselves .We cannot change things before we hear the others .

Thanks so much

My love
Alia

noreens's picture

Interesting article, Alia.

Interesting article, Alia. It's sad that these women and their families feel that marriage is a must. But that's how it is. Once a girl reaches a certain age, if she isn't married, her family begins to worry that she will soon be too old to marry. Arranged marriages are not as common as they used to be in some places as more and more girls go for education but obviously it still exists. In Islam a girl can not be forced to marry so this is not and Islamic thing.

alia's picture

Noreen habibti , you know i

Noreen habibti , you know i really hope to see girls who donn't think that the marriage is the most important thing in the world . I feel so sad when i meet young girls who think that marriage would solve all thier probelms , while it can destroy thier lives somtimes .

You were right when you said that forcing women to marry is not Islamic ,but our probelm is that we are so far from the Islamic behaviors in our societies .( The Middel East societies i mean )

Thanks for the great comment .

My love
Alia

mconing's picture

Mobility, in this context, is

Mobility, in this context, is the ability for a person to change their status within the social hierarchy. The changing of geographic location, status location, economic placement, etc. Say, in the situation of arranged marriage, a woman who is considered past "marrying age" in her home country and she wanted to be in a country that was more industrialized, then she could marry a man from the industrialized country.

Excellent question. Thanks for asking!

MC

Julie Tomlin's picture

Very complex..

Hello Alia,
This is a really well researched and written piece that shows how economic, social and cultural pressures come together to mean that some women have limited options.
It's interesting that the attorney pointed to the need for training and awareness, which would play some part, but I wonder what else would be done?

Yours,
Julie

@julietomlin

alia's picture

Dear Julie Thanks so much .

Dear Julie

Thanks so much . i agree with you that we need more trainings which can focus on women in poor regions , not just for them but for thier families too ,espically the men who push thier women to this kind of marriage .
what else we can do ? I don't know exactly , but maybe if we can find jobs for those women ,that will help them to be self-depent , and then they would not need to marry in this way to get rid of thier poverty .

My love
Alia

Amei's picture

Perplexed!

A very complex situation you have posted. Women further pushed into a corner with economicn and cultural pressures. There is no one easy solution. We need collective activities to assist these girls. Wemen are in grave situation in every country of the world.

I wonder what I could do!

Thanks for postind Alia

Regards
Amei

alia's picture

Dear Amei yes you are right

Dear Amei

yes you are right , we need many solutions not just one , and we need to help each other more .

Thanks so much for the comment .

My love
Alia

Adelma A.Linatoc's picture

" Mail-order bride "

Dear Alia,

We call it Mail-order bride here in our country,mostly those women/families from rural areas were the ones who usually enter on that arrangement.They thought that for doing so, they can be lifted from poor condition and can look for a "greener pasture" and trying to escape the hard life in their place.They're so ignorant of what they're entering with is a great "Risk."I don't know if there are efforts done by womens group focusing on this issues alone.I hope by your initiative that could be a good "eye opener".

Regards and more power my friend.

abella's picture

A journey of thousand miles....

Thanks for this post Alia,

Quite an eye opener, well researched too. To just connect with Amei question, what can we do?

As I kept on reading this story, all that I kept on seeing is poverty, now don't get me wrong, I don't mean economic poverty but mindset poverty. These ladies see no value in themselves and hence they choose to subject themselves to anything, they totally do not believe that they are in a situation to do anything to help themselves, but even more sad their so chosen solution is only temporarily and with so much negativity on their side, at the end of it all they will end up more frustrated than before.

I come from Africa, I am literally surrounded by the so called 'Poverty' of both mind and economic status, born and raised in it, but I refused to be 'it'. This is because someone reached out to me and told me I am valuable and I stand a chance to do great, ever since there is no limit in my doings, now if I , a child who in my 10yrs had no future no fees to attend school and at times went hungry with no food to eat at my home with my siblings and a single mum could do it, I believe anyone could, all they need is that single lead.

I believe, it start by us educating one another. One really does not need a bigger platform or a chance to meet multitude to make a change, if you look around you , you will be surprised at how many kinda ladies have surrounded you, regardless of their background.It high time we start advocate for a value found within a woman.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step...and you are that STEP!

Thank you Alia for showing the way :-)

I am because we are :-)

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