When most couples write out wedding gift lists, they typically ask for cutlery and dull domestic appliances. Ask Hala and her fiance Khalid what they’d like for their special day, though, and they’d probably tell you Lego bricks and a Tickle Me Elmo. That’s because the newly betrothed Syrians are just 3 and 5 years old, respectively, according to Dubai’s Gulf News.
Khalid’s father Juma — who lives in the city of Homs, some 100 miles north of Damascus — told the paper that his son asked for his fellow kindergartner’s hand in marriage “of his own free will,” after a brief holiday romance. Both families are now reportedly preparing for the ceremony, which will take place in a decade, when Khalid is 15 and Hala 13. Such a ceremony would still be against Syrian law, which states the minimum age for marriage is 17 for women and 18 for men.
The young couple apparently first met while their families were vacationing in the port city of Latakia. “He was so love-sick after parting from his young girlfriend that he refused to go back to his nursery unless little Hala came too,” Juma said. When his wife contacted Hala’s family, she was surprised to discover that their little girl was “developing similar symptoms of loneliness, and the family would be happy to see them engaged.”
Whether the kids willingly committed to each other for life — or even understood the concept of marriage — is doubtful. And the timing of the announcement conveniently chimes with a pledge Juma made during his wife’s “complicated pregnancy” with their only child. “I vowed to have my child engaged at the age of 5 if he was a boy and to marry him to a women of his choice at the age of 15,” he said, adding that he has agreed to pay for Hala’s education.
While child marriages aren’t unknown in Syria’s more remote rural regions — ceremonies involving girls as young as 13 and boys age 15 have been known to take place in defiance of the law — they’re almost unheard of in its cities, where the average age of marriage for women is 25, according to rights organization Freedom House.
However, Juma has pledged that if the youngsters decide not to marry in a decade’s time, he’ll honor their request. “We know that Khalid or Hala might change their mind in the future,” he said. “But what we do know at this stage is that they are very happy and talk to each other every day.”