Child Marriage in Ethiopia, Faces of Change: The School Teacher
by Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop
26 November 2015
9. The School Teacher
“Last year we intervened to prevent 6 cases of child marriage involving female pupils aged 12-16 and boys aged 16-18.”
“In this community the parents do not value education and we need to push for them to send both boys and girls to school. Schooling is also interrupted in May when children are pulled out of school to help with agricultural work,” explains Adamu Yenew, Principle of Wondefay Primary School in Wondefay Kabele (neighbourhood), Dangla Woreda (district), Amhara, Ethiopia.
The Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office (WCYAO) in the Woreda is supported by UNICEF to run a comprehensive programme against child marriage involving multiple stakeholders at the community level.
The school has 500 pupils and has successfully intervened to cancel six out of eight reported cases of child marriages among its pupils in the past year.
Adamu explains: “There are marriage seasons when the harvest is more bountiful, so nothing happens in October and November but marriages peak after the harvest in January and February and then again after April. During these peak times last year we intervened to prevent 6 cases involving female pupils aged 12-16 and boys aged 16-18. All are still in school. In two cases the parents resisted so we wrote to the police and gave the parents a copy of the letter.”
Occasionally girls and boys who marry will continue with their schooling, but they inevitably drop out.
Adamu continues: “Child marriage is common and happens without the child’s consent. I was just discussing this issue with a girl aged 13 who I have heard is due to marry. But she is too ashamed to say what is happening.”
Teacher Selamawit Yigezau, 24, is chair of the school’s Girl’s Advisory Committee. The committee discusses all issues affecting a girl’s education including child marriage.
“As a child I was lucky”, explains Selamawit “I was due to marry at 7 years old, but my Uncle, who is educated and a government official, decided I had to continue my education. I was supposed to live with my husband who was 12 and his parents, but my Uncle insisted I live in a separate house. It was only two years later when I was aged 9 that I had to go to my husband – he was then 14 – but it did not last long. I was only there a month and my Uncle removed me and took me to his house. I did not know what was going on.
“Child marriage really hurts a girl’s life. Getting pregnant so young and having the responsibility of running a house. It is too hard for a girl child to administer a home and it leads to quarrels with her husband, and violence against her. The girl has such a high workload she cannot possible manage and the Mother in Law joins in and criticizes the girl.
“If my Uncle had not intervened I would now have children and be vulnerable. But I am now productive and leading my life without needing anything.”
Students come to Selamawit and the Girl’s Advisory Committee to report what is happening to girls at the school. “At that point we intervene by discussing the situation with the child, parents and leadership system for the village. We discuss issues freely with the girls. We build a relationship with the family – most are farmers so we go to their home – so that we can discuss issues of child marriage. We have long discussions in which we try to get them to understand the implications of child marriage and that it is illegal. If they resist we go to the police,” says Selamawit.
Tigist, a 14 year old girl who is a member of the Girl’s Advisory Committee, says: “Child marriage harms our life. One of the marriages that we successfully had cancelled was that of my friend. We are so happy for her.”
Photo: © UNICEF/ESARO 2015/Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop