Child Marriage in Ethiopia, Faces of Change: The Government Official
by Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop
26 November 2015
6. The Government Official
“I got married at 6 years old. We established our own home when my husband was 14 and I was 8. So at first I was a victim, but then I became an advocate.”
“I got married at 6 years old” says Yitayesh Akalu, Expert at the Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office (WCYAO) in Dangla Woreda (District), Amhara, Ethiopia. The WCYAO is supported by UNICEF to run a comprehensive programme against child marriage involving multiple stakeholders at the community level.
Yitayesh continues, “So at first I was a victim, but then I became an advocate. That is what motivated me to do this work.
“My husband was 12. Both families had assets. Neither I nor my husband knew we were marrying. I kept being given jewellery by his family, but had no idea why or what was going on. I found out I was getting married during the ceremony, but I did not know who my husband was, as both he and his brother were getting married that day!”
Yitayesh explains that although both married as children, she and her husband continued with their educations: “We established our own home when he was 14 and I was 8 years old. He insisted he continue with his education and my father in law agreed to school him, and my own father made sure I was educated until the age of 16. It is usual for both boys and girls who marry to leave education early so we were lucky.”
Yitayesh explains the negative impacts of child marriage in her Woreda:
“It is usual for girls as young as seven to be married – it even happens to infants as a promissory marriage. Young girls unsurprisingly do not know how to manage a home. They quarrel with their husband and in-laws and suffer psychological distress. They are separated from their school mates and friends and become extremely isolated. This has a hugely negative effect on the life of the girl.
“The youngest girls aged say 5-7 may be protected from having sex with their husbands by the respective families. The girls often run back to their families but she will be sent back to her husband each time. At age 10-12, sometimes younger, the girls are considered old enough for sexual intercourse with the husband. At 13 they are giving birth.”
Yitayesh explains that both wealthy and poor families are effected by child marriage:
“Poverty is a real factor in driving child marriage. Many families can not cover the cost of education. However poverty is not the only reason. In the case of wealthier families, they wish to forge an alliance with a prestigious family through marriage. When families have equal status they will contribute equally. So for example, the girl’s family and husband’s family will both provide start-up capital to the new couple such as two cows each. And the husband will give clothing to his new wife. However if the girl is poor, her family may be given an Ox by the husband’s family which will ensure their survival.”
It is in fact the wealth of a family which can drive the age of marriage lower and lower. Yitayesh comments: “Where a marriage takes place to establish ties between two families with social standing, it may be too risky to wait, in case the girl marries someone else. And so the girl will be “reserved” at age 6 or 7, when the boy is say 14 and they will be married soon after.”
Photo: © UNICEF/ESARO 2015/Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop