BEIRUT • Marwa is only 16. Yet, it's been nine months since she got engaged to a man seven years her senior. In Hrar, a village in the Akkar region (Northern Lebanon), this is no surprise.
Two of her classmates have already dropped out of school to be married. Four more are engaged.
"In our traditional Sunni society, young people are not allowed to mingle without being engaged," explains Marwa.
She wishes she could enrol at university in Tripoli, the capital of Northern Lebanon, study chemistry and open her own lab. Her fiance, though, wants to bring forward their wedding date.
"I am holding strong," she says, but acknowledges the fact that her fiance "is a poorly educated mechanic" who has not come to terms with her ambitions.
Marwa is the youngest of a very modest family, whose women are married off young, have children and take care of their household. Truth be told, the women of Lebanese rural regions are brought up haunted by the fear of being an old maid. Marriage is the way out, according to the locals, to better protect young women.
The Akkar Network for Development, led by a native resident of the region, Ms Nadine Saba, aims to change that. Her aim is to fight violence against women in all of its aspects, early marriage being among them.
Ms Saba says: "We prioritise projects such as child labour, marriage registry, family and religion. We create a trusted relationship with local communities and religious leaders, because we can't have access to women if we choose confrontation. Over time, women get to talk more openly about what bothers them.
"At that point, we can work with victims of abuse or violence. We can convince mothers and teenage women to delay marriage, at least long enough for the young girls to graduate."