Our research: In Jordan, a small landlocked country bordering Israel, Saudi Arabia and Syria, we are following over 3,500 adolescents – including vulnerable Jordanians as well as Palestinian, Syrian and Yemeni refugees who are living in host communities, camps and informal tented settlements. Our research includes adolescents themselves, their caregivers, teachers and other community members.
The context: Jordan has the second highest share of refugees compared to its population in the world, 89 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants. UNHCR reports that there are more than 2 million Palestine refugees and 660,000 Syrian refugees officially registered in Jordan (as of June 2018) – though government sources estimate that the total Syrian population is at least twice as large. Of those, just over 2 million are Palestinian and about 1.5 million are Syrian. Most refugees are poor – for example, a recent survey found that 90% of Syrian children in Jordan live below the poverty line.
Education and learning: Adolescent girls in Jordan are more likely to attend school than boys – in part because many boys leave school to work and in part because many are pushed out by teacher violence. Amongst Jordanians, 10% of secondary-aged girls are out of school, compared to 15% of boys. Enrolment rates for Syrian refugees are far lower. Only 72% of Syrian girls between the ages of nine and 14 – and 29% of girls between the ages of 15 and 17 – are enrolled in school. For boys, rates are 63% and 22%, respectively.
Bodily autonomy, integrity and freedom from violence: Girls in Jordan – especially Syrian refugee girls – are at high risk of marrying as children. About one in nine Jordanian girls and an estimated one in three Syrian girls marry before the age of 18. Syrian refugee boys living in Jordan are especially likely to experience violence. Many studies have found that violence at the hands of host community peers is endemic, with violence in some communities so pervasive that parents pull their children from school in order to keep them safe.1
Health, nutrition, and sexual and reproductive health: Adolescents in Jordan face varied threats to their nutrition. Jordanians are increasingly likely to be overweight,2 while Syrian refugees are highly food insecure, due to high poverty rates. Syrian refugee girls are at a high risk of teenage pregnancy due to child marriage.3 Approximately one-tenth of births to Syrian mothers are to girls under the age of 18.4 Adolescent boys, on the other hand, are at growing risk of substance use. Up to half admit to smoking daily, and drug addiction is becoming an increasing concern.
Psychosocial well-being: Overall assessments suggest that most Jordanian girls are optimistic about their own futures and feel well connected to their families. However, where girls struggle with depression and eating disorders they are unlikely to receive treatment because of stigma – as parents are concerned about damaging girls’ marriage prospects.5 Jordanian boys, despite their higher ‘happiness’ levels, report more loneliness and are less likely to say that they have someone to talk to. Refugee adolescents report depression, anxiety, stress and PTSD – with girls more likely to internalise their feelings and boys more likely to act out.6
Voice and agency: Adolescents have comparatively limited space to make decisions in Jordan, as the culture emphasises generational hierarchies. Girls’ are particularly disadvantaged. They have far more limited mobility than boys, especially after puberty, and are expected to comply with their parents’ decisions. Syrian girls again appear particularly disadvantaged, with only one-third of adolescent girls even leaving home on a daily basis.7
Economic empowerment: Youth unemployment rates are high in Jordan – which also has one of the lowest rates of female labour-force participation in the world. While refugee boys are likely to be engaged in child labour, the jobs open to them are generally poorly paid and exploitive. Girls’ access to employment is all but non-existent.
The evidence base: Our situation analyses (one for girls and one for boys) concluded that the evidence base on adolescent well-being in Jordan needs considerable strengthening given that the experiences of girls and boys of Jordanian, Syrian and Palestinian heritage can be markedly different. Care is needed to tease out the specific age-, gender- and nationality-related risks and opportunities facing different groups of young people, and within refugee communities the different vulnerabilities faced by those living in camps compared to in host communities.