Child Marriage in Ethiopia, Faces of Change: The Wealthier Girl
by Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop
26 November 2015
5. The Wealthier Girl
“I heard of plans by one man to invite Azeng to tea behind my back. She could have been defiled. I arranged the marriage to prevent that from happening. We were living in fear of it.” Father of Azeng, aged 10
Azeng* (left), aged 10, is one of seven children belonging to a family with high community status due to their land assets, in the Bandani Kebele (neighbourhood) of the Dangla Woreda (district) in Amhara, Ethiopia.
Azeng found out she was due to be married when she was at school. “I heard I was getting married from a school friend. I cried when she told me”, Azeng again starts to cry as she recounts finding out she would be forced to leave her family, education and childhood to become a wife at the age of 10.
“I do not want to get married. I want to learn. I want to be a teacher one day,” Azeng bows her head, the tears continue to fall as she speaks. “I do not know who my planned husband is, or how old he is,” she continues.
The man concerned is in fact 25 years old. And was one of nine suitors who had asked Azeng’s father for her hand in marriage.
Azeng’s father (right) explains that because Azeng is a desirable wife due to his family’s status, he feared she would be abducted to seal a union without his consent. “I had heard of plans by one man to invite Azeng to tea behind my back. She could have been defiled. I arranged the marriage to prevent that from happening. We were living in fear of it,” he says.
Zelalem Belay, a community Elder explains: “There is shame upon the family if a union is not formal and a girl lives with a boy. So there is a fear of abduction. For example if a girl goes to the market and is raped. There is a fear that a girl will have a sexual affiliation with a man. That fear leads to families wanting to marry their girls young.”
Azeng’s father continues: “I protected my older daughter in the same way when she was 15. The man I chose for Azeng is from a good family and the marriage would have bonded our two families.
“I educated my eldest daughter – she is now 24 – but in those days there was not the fear of abductions. Now youths just take a girl to the fields and rape her. I regret marrying my 15 year old daughter. She would be educated now, supporting the country with her skills and knowledge, but instead she is managing a household.”
After Azeng found out about the planned union, she reported her parents to the “Ears” and “Eyes” of the Community Conversation Group, an initiative supported by UNICEF which advocates for adult marriages and prevents child marriages in the Kabele. The Ears and Eyes then told Community Conversation Facilitator Girma Demlash (pictured left with Azeng), 30, and he immediately went to Azeng’s house to speak to her parents and dissuaded them from continuing with the marriage.
Azeng’s father explains how he overcame his fear of abduction: “We are taking due care to protect Azeng, and I know that Girma and others are conducting education amongst youths, to prevent abductions. So I feel assured I have done the right thing.”
*Name changed to protect identity
Photos: © UNICEF/ESARO 2015/Elizabeth Willmott-Harrop