Media and Campaigns Manager, Save the Children in Ethiopia
Amhara Region, Ethiopia
June 16, 2015
Ayelech* 13, lives in a remote village in the Amhara region, north of Addis Ababa. She likes local celebrations which involve traditional songs and dancing. Last year, when Ayelech's parents started to organize an event in their house, she was excited to be part of it.
After school, she assisted her family in preparing the feast like other rural girls in her village. She collected fire wood and washed utensils for preparing local drinks. But she was confused and shocked when she learned from her close friend that the feast was not for any other social or religious events but for her wedding.
Bewildered, Ayelech started contemplating a way to escape from the wedding ceremony.
"I am aware of the challenges of child marriage," says Ayelech who is in grade four. "I also know many women including my mother who did not finish school because of getting married as a child. I do not want to miss school, I informed the girls' club coordinator and school director to help in stopping my parents and the family of the 'husband-to-be'."
"My favourite subject is science. I want to become a doctor when I grow up," she says.
Ayelech's marriage was cancelled after a joint intervention of a women association supported by Save the Children, a school administration, a local administration and other actors in the community.
"Ayelech is brilliant," says, Belayne Mucha, the School Director who was informed by Ayelech and helped cancel her marriage. "I am confident she can be one of the celebrated professionals in the country."
Child marriage is not uncommon in her village and other parts of Amhara Region. The deep-rooted practice is adversely affecting the lives of many children, forcing them to abandon school and leaving them more likely to become pregnant early, experience more complications during labour and become more vulnerable to gender-based violence. Despite progress over the past decades, there is still high rate of child marriage in Ethiopia. In Amhara region, where Ayelech lives, the prevalence (44.8%) is much higher than the national average which stands at 21.4%.
The good news is that Ethiopia recognized child marriage as threat to development and prepared the 2013 National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices with the objective of reducing child marriage from the current baseline of 21.4% to 10.4%. The Ethiopian government also made a commitment - at the first Girl Summit held in London in July 2014 - to eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Ethiopia by 2025.
The implementation strategy and action plan will certainly enable thousands of children like Ayelech to have a bright future where child marriage will not rob their dreams and expose them to many social ills and life-threating diseases.
Save the Children works with Amhara Women Association (AWA) that aims to improve economic status of women, empower them in decision-making processes and eliminate socio-cultural factors that hinder equal participation and benefits of women.
The Association has helped cancel more than 40,000 child marriages over the past five years. AWA, through its members who are also well recognized at grassroots level, empowers women and closely works with the local administration and school community.
Save the Children supports the association to strengthen its efforts in addressing the many challenges facing children and women so that children can grow and thrive.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the child