Having as many as four wives is culturally acceptable in conservative Muslim communities on both sides of the border. Central to the practice are matchmakers, a euphemism for individuals who play a wide range of roles, from making introductions to facilitating undocumented marriages for a fee to spurring sex work.
But Turkey, which unlike Syria follows a secular legal framework, has long outlawed the practice. Poverty-stricken widows like Umm Abdu, another native of Aleppo, are the bread and butter of these predators.
In the refugee camps and crowded Turkish towns on the border with Syria, impoverished Syrian women and girls are falling prey to criminal rings that are forcing them into sexually exploitative situations ranging from illicit marriages to outright prostitution.
The phenomenon has grown over the past year, corrupting Syrian traditions and drawing a class of Turkish “customers” who are taking advantage of the refugees’ desperate circumstances.
According to the report, 4 in 5 Syrian refugees are women or children.
But in Turkey, home to more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees according to the latest UN estimates, research efforts are complicated by restricted access to camps and the challenge of collecting data across vast urban communities.
It is not the kind of profession that is publicly acknowledged.