Portrait of Ghazal


I felt compelled to paint ‘Portrait of Ghazal’ after watching an interview of 16 year old Ghazal by Henrique Cymerman, a Portuguese news reporter. At the age of 16 Ghazal, a Syrian refugee in a Jordanian camp, was married, by a cleric, to a Saudi man 40 years her senior. Two months later, after much physical and sexual abuse, the husband divorced her and Ghazal was sent back to her family. At the time of the interview another marriage had been ‘brokered’ and Ghazal was embarking on her second marriage. Also interviewed and getting married was her cousin Olah, aged 13, who spoke of their sense of duty and expected role in helping their families financially. In war torn Syria life in the refugee camps is hard and more and more young girls are being forced into marriage as families without sources of income, assets or livelihood believe, in many instances, they are securing their daughter’s future and well being.

In another interview Um Majed, a marriage broker, said that although the legal age of marriage in Jordan is 18, some religious clerics will marry underage girls for a small fee. This puts the girls at even greater risk for exploitation because some of Um Majed’s clients want a temporary union lasting a few weeks or months after which the girl is returned to her parents. One of Um Majed’s brides had been married 3 or 4 times. She was 15. In other words, this is religiously sanctioned prostitution.

Ghazal’s tears, the black veil concealing her face but not the pain in her eyes, spoke of her brief ‘marriage’ and the brutality she experienced in order to submit to a much older man whom, she admitted, she loathed.

My first thought was, how can society allow these young girls to be preyed upon and abused in what is an accepted cultural practice not only in her Arab culture, but in many cultures around the world. Ghazal is one of the 14 million girls, some as young as 8 or 9, who this year alone due to cultural practices, poverty, gender and lack of security will get sold into marriage and a life of bondage and disenfranchisement from which they may never recover.

Child marriage is a violation of human rights. It denies girls their health, education, economic opportunities and increases their risk of experiencing violence.

It is my hope that by sharing ‘Portrait of Ghazal’ we, as an international community, will bring attention and awareness to the plight of these Syrian girls, who besides being victims of the war itself, also carry the extra burden of being exploited by tradition, by their own families, and unscrupulous men who feel they have the right to buy and physically and sexually abuse vulnerable girls, with the blessing of religious and cultural practices.

We can make a difference. As Graça Machel, widow of Nelson Mandela, says, traditions are made by people – we can change them.

I see Ghazal’s tears as a pleading for change. It is time to end child marriage. Let Ghazal’s tears be pearls of enlightenment, pearls of resolve and a concerted international effort to bring forth awareness, education and an end to child marriage .

Please share . Say NO to Child Brides


Portrait of Ghazal is on display at:

WorldBeat Dance Arts and Wellness

1650 Pandosy Street ,Kelowna, BC Canada


Portrait of Ghazal will be auctioned off on EBay with proceeds donated to a charity.

I welcome your suggestions as to which charity and why.

Portrait of Ghazal ©2016

Acrylic on Canvas

36’x 48’ (91cmx122cm)

Maria Bayford