Child Marriage in Ethiopia, Faces of Change: The Priests
by Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop
26 November 2015
8. The Priests
“If I had known before what I know now, I could have helped save so many girls. I married both my daughters at age 12 and 16, and I really regret it”, Yazew Tagela
“You marry a girl before 18 and it is like killing the very life of the girl”, Degu Eneyew
Yazew Tagela (left) and Degu Eneyew are both Priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and members of the UNICEF supported Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage in the Bandani Kebele (neighbourhood) of the Dangla Woreda (district) in Amhara, Ethiopia.
Both are vehemently against child marriage, but come from different perspectives:
Yazew Tagela, 41, has directly experienced financial loss as a result of marrying his daughters as children.
Yazew Tagela comments: “If I had known before what I know now, I could have helped save so many girls. I married both my daughters at age 12 and 16, and I really regret it. I spent 20,000 ETB (around $1,000) on the marriages of my two girls. I could have bought urban land with that, which would now be worth up to 200,000 ETB ($10,000). The girls lead a rural life like me, and do not enjoy life like their peers who were educated.
“Three years later, neither are yet pregnant, but I really worry about that. With the poor living conditions they have, if they give birth life will get more complicated. If I had not married them, they could have contributed a lot to their country through their being educated.
“My own wife was 15 when we married – I was 25. She showed such childish behaviour but I supported her and she became pregnant straight away.”
“As a priest I am responsible for these marriages as I have to marry a virgin girl, so there is so much pressure on the girls being of younger ages. But I am no longer prepared to bless a marriage if a girl is below the age of 18.
“The government has committed to stop child marriage by 2025, but I know we can stop it way before then. This Kebele is a role model for what can be achieved, a learning site. Everyone here shares ideas and supports each other against child marriage.”
Degu Eneyew (right), 50, has seen first-hand how girls thrive when they are educated.
Degu Eneyew comments: “At the age of 38 in 2003 I went back to school. It was then that I saw the impact education has on the girl – how well she can do in life. But the community sees education negatively as they associate it with a girl’s exposure to risk. We are teaching the community that if a girl is educated she will support the family. Every Sunday I include in my regular preaching to say “no to child marriage” and send girls to school instead.
“Look at the difference between two families – one which is fast to marry its girls too young, one which does not. You can see life’s consequences from child marriage – giving birth early, scarce resources, limited land. You marry a girl before 18 and it is like killing the very life of the girl. Where families are strong enough to send their girls to school the girls have jobs. Her life will be completely different.
“In the past, a priest would bless the marriage of a child. But today, if the girl is under 18 the priest will not be told. The family will conduct a customary marriage instead with any elder, but witnesses to such marriages are criminally liable.
“Hereafter if a marriage involves parties who are under 18 I will denounce it and report it to the police. If the couple are 18 or above I will bless the marriage. I want everyone to condemn the practise as an evil act.”
Photos: © UNICEF/ESARO 2015/Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop