News

Ethiopians Fight to Stop Early Marriage

In Arerit village, girls as young as 12 years old are given in marriage to older men
In Arerit village, girls as young as 12 years old are given in marriage to older men

Yeshiwork Marye is baking injera – a flat, sour bread that’s a staple food in Ethiopia. The 18-year-old is sitting in a small outdoor kitchen with partially completed walls. Smoke from burning animal dung billows from the kitchen.

<!-- IMAGE -->

Responsibility came early for Yeshiwork. At the age of 14, she started caring for her young brother because her single mother got married and went live with her husband, 100 kilometers away. Yeshiwork herself was married when she was 17.

"He knew marrying a 17-year-old was illegal"
 
Yeshiwork describes her marriage as difficult and awful. She says she only got married to please her family.

Yeshiwork’s husband was at least 25 years older than she was. He worked in his town’s justice system. He was recognized as an advocate of the prevention of early marriage, but Yeshiwork says he did not practice what he preached.
 
“He knew marrying a 17-year-old was illegal,” she says. “In the papers he said I was 18.”

She says he was more than twice her age, and they could not relate well to each other. He wanted her to have children even before she finished high school.

Nigisti Halefom, a woman's rights advocate for Ofla District, tried to stop the marriage.

“This man knew what he was doing,” Nigisti says. “Others violate women’s rights because of lack of information, but not this man. He knew she was young, she was a student and he violated her right to associate with her peers and has psychologically disturbed her.”
 
Yeshiwork's divorce settlement got her a negligible amount of money.  She did not pass her 10th grade national examination to go to college and now lives with her mother.

Effects of early marriage

Girls and young women whose bodies are not fully formed are susceptible to complications  during birth, like fistula. It’s a tear in the lining of the uterus that allows urine and other bodily fluids to leak through. The condition is painful and often creates an odor that leads many communities to ostracize the girl.

Many come for treatment at the country’s fistula hospital in the capital, Addis Ababa. Mark Bennett the hospital’s CEO says about 65% of the victims are young women and this has happened in their first pregnancy.

“These women are disappointed because they have lost a baby. But because they are leaking these bodily contents, they become offensive to those who live with them and a high proportion of them become separated from their husbands,” says Bennett.

Efforts to end early marriage in rural areas

<!-- IMAGE -->

Such cases are even more widespread in rural areas.

In the semi-desert rural village of Arerit, Tuesday is market day.  The market is an important meeting venue for the local marriage approval committee. It’s supported by a local NGO and works with law enforcement agents and elders to evaluate the physical fitness of all girls in the village before they get married.  

Committee member Hussien Areru says all marriage arrangements have to be approved by the committee, which consists of religious leaders, government representatives and women’s rights groups.

“Some people arrange secret weddings but they eventually face prosecution, since the community reports such acts to appropriate authorities,” Hussien says.
 
Parents still ask the committee to approve marriage for girls as young as 12, but the girl has to pass a medical evaluation.  The evaluation takes place at a clinic that is six hours away traveling on foot.

Village elders in Arerit hope that this sort of community policing will soon make early marriage a thing of the past.

This is part 2 of our 15 part series, A Healthy Start: On the Frontlines of Maternal and Infant Care in Africa

« Prev: Female Genital Mutilation Series Index Next: Access to Pre-Natal Care »
This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs