Child & early forced marriage (CEFM) is a serious issue in Ethiopia. It's deeply rooted in many communities, and is closely linked to poverty, lack of education and economic opportunities, and restrictive social norm. Youth For Change Ethiopia's Hirut visited Bahirdar, the capital of Ethiopia's Amhara region to speak to girls there to explore the impacts and causes of CEFM.
In the outskirts of Bahirdar a young beautiful girl sits beside a hut awaiting our arrival. She greets us with a smile. I explain to her why we are here today. That we want to learn from her about what it is like to be a girl in Ethiopia and the challenges and opportunity living in her community.
Amina is a 16 years old girl - she's currently living with her mother after she ran away from her husband. Her eyes become watery when she narrates her experience of early marriage. At 14 her mother decided to marry her off because she could no longer afford to keep her at home.
Amina didn’t understand what marriage entails so with little protest she was taken to her soon to be husbands family house for festivity. After a couple of drinks and dancing, the husband escorts Amina to their bed room and tells her ‘you are my wife now and you ought to do what a wife is suppose to do’. She tells me she didn’t understand what he meant by it, but what followed soon after was something Amina said she would never forget.
In Amhara region, on the wedding night the husband takes his wife to the bed room and fulfill his sexual needs while the guests cheer and roll the drums for him. It is said that the more scream the wife makes, the more cheers he gets. At the end, he goes out and shows the bed sheet to symbolize that the girl’s virginity is no more.
In our society, a man and a women’s role is determined from the day you are born. The boys are prepped to take on the family wealth, while the girls are repeatedly told to be good girls and obey their parents so that they can soon become a respectable wife and honor the family.
Harmful traditional practices: girls are affected most
Harmful traditional practices (HTP) can affect men and women, girls and boys. However, because the perpetuation of HTPs often lies in deep-rooted gender inequalities, girls and women are the most affected. Although HTPs can vary in different cultural context, the majority of HTPs like child marriage and FGM are related to widespread social understanding on what it means to be a girl or woman, to the control of female sexuality and to notions about girls’ ‘purity’.
Amina's nightmare didn’t end on that day. She was forced to drop out of school and stay in the house day and night cooking and cleaning. When her husband comes home she gets a few punch’s or slaps for not putting the food out fast enough or for standing tall in front of him, or for any other reason he wish to lay hands on her. When its night time her wedding night experience happens all over again. This time without the cheering and drum rolls.
Stigma and fear prevent girls escaping child marriage
2 weeks later, Amina could no longer tolerate her her husband’s behavior. She ran back to her mother and begged her to not send her back. Afraid of being ostracised by the community, her mother informs the in-laws that Amina was with her. They came and took her away for the second time. A week later, Amina ran away to the city of Bahirdar and start working as a house maid. After 6 months of intense labour and no pay, Amina returns back to her mother and convinces her to not send her back to her husband again.
Amina is now 16 and her journey still continues. She works long hours at the kchat farm earning less than 1 $ a day and is now providing for her family. She wants to go back to school one day but she is postponing her education until she opens a retail shop for her mother
Early marriage contributes to intergenerational poverty. Research shows that girls who marry at a young age are less likely to complete school or realize their earning potential. Their children are more likely to suffer from poor health, which in turn leads to under achievement throughout their lives, affecting their chances of gaining an education and being able to provide for themselves or their community
At Youth For Change Ethiopia we are working to raise awareness on child & early forced marriage and female genital mutilation. As young people we have the power to put an end to these practices, and see a world where girls and women are able to realise their full potential.
Find out more about Youth For Change Ethiopia's work.