Child Marriage in EthiopiaIn Ethiopia, child marriage rates are among the highest in the world. According to Girls Not Brides, 40% of girls marry before their 18th birthday, and 14% marry before they turn 15. Rates of child marriage are the highest in the Amhara region and girls from poor households and rural areas are the most vulnerable. The Ethiopian government and organizations such as UNICEF are working to combat the issue, and as a result, the rate of child marriage in Ethiopia has declined over the past two decades.

Child Marriage Rates in Ethiopia

From 2005 to 2016, the percentage of women in Ethiopia that marry before their 18th birthday slightly declined. The rates of child marriage for under 15-year-old girls saw an even greater decrease. However, according to UNICEF, rates of child marriage increased once again in 2022 as a result of severe droughts. The drought, which killed livestock and brought famine, meant that parents were more likely to marry off their daughters in order to secure dowries that help to feed the rest of their family. In fact, according to government sources, child marriage rates increased by 119% in 2022 in the areas worst affected by the drought. These include Oromia, Somali and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNP).

Causes of Child Marriage

Child marriage and poverty are undoubtedly linked, and, according to Girls Not Brides, 58% of girls living in the poorest households in Ethiopia marry before they turn 18. However, a 2016 UNICEF report revealed that poverty is not the strongest driving force of child marriage in Ethiopia and that girls from richer families are also at risk.

Wealthy families often use child marriage to demonstrate social status or consolidate wealth, using young girls to obtain financial security for their families. In Amhara particularly, promising a young child in marriage is seen as a way to form alliances with other affluent families. Additionally, bridewealth payments are customary in Southern Ethiopia and are a vital form of income for many families.

UNICEF reported that gender and cultural norms are the most significant contributor to high child marriage rates. Ethiopian culture views girls as wives and mothers, placing a low value on female education. There is a stigma surrounding premarital pregnancy and the idea that girls are “impure” if they do not marry at a young age is widely accepted, with many parents believing that marriage between the ages of 15 and 18 is not early.

Many girls do not get to receive education because of these gender norms, but also because their parents fear that if they are sent away to secondary school they will be raped or abducted. There is a clear correlation between education levels and child marriage rates. According to Girls Not Brides, around 68% of Ethiopian girls with no education marry before they turn 18 compared with 13% of girls who received full secondary education.

Combating Child Marriage

The UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage is a multi-donor program, launched in 2016, of which Ethiopia is a focus country. In 2020, the program identified 3,749 child marriages, and law enforcement subsequently prevented 2,051 of these, Girls Not Brides reports. One strategy it employs to decrease rates of child marriage in Ethiopia is keeping adolescent girls in education, and in 2018 a total of 73,771 girls remained in education as a result of the program’s efforts.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a setback for the program, however, it continued to operate and supported 5.1 million of 24 million children to continue education by way of online programs and radio.

Commitment from the Ethiopian Government

According to the 2019 UNICEF report, at the first global Girl Summit held in London in 2014, the Ethiopian government pledged to end child marriage in Ethiopia by the year 2025. In 2019, the president of Ethiopia presented the National Costed Roadmap to End Child Marriage and FGM/C 2020-2024. The Ministry of Women, Children and Youth created the roadmap with the support of UNICEF and UNFPA.

It is a five-year plan that outlines five pillar strategies to eliminate child marriage by the year 2025, such as community engagement with religious and political leaders; with the aim of increasing investment in young girls and their education. It works to reinforce the commitments made by the Ethiopian government in 2014. The Roadmap estimates that to achieve this goal, progress will need to be 10 times faster than it has been over the past decade.

The five-year roadmap will cost 2.72 billion Ethiopian Birr to implement, a figure which equates to around £40 million.

Elimination of Child Marriage

If Ethiopia achieves the 2025 target, the World Bank/International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) estimates that ending child marriage in Ethiopia could generate a 9.3% rise in earnings for women who marry early, and up to $1.5 billion in additional earnings and productivity for the whole country, according to Girls Not Brides. Currently, Ethiopia’s child marriage rates remain among the highest in the world, but there is hope that with the implementation of the roadmap, rates could decline and help the eradication of child marriage in Ethiopia.

– Lily Cooper
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in Africa
Child marriage, defined as a situation in which a person is married before the age of 18, is considered to be a violation of fundamental human rights. Child marriage generally affects more girls than boys and has been found to limit educational attainment and work opportunities, result in early pregnancy, lead to social isolation and increase the risk of domestic violence.

Globally, child marriage occurs at the highest rate in sub-Saharan Africa, where four in 10 young women are married before the age of 18. While some African countries have been able to make significant progress in reducing child marriage, overall progress throughout the continent has been slow, making child marriage in Africa a primary concern of UNICEF and other international humanitarian organizations.

Global and Regional Trends

The child marriage rate in sub-Saharan Africa is 10 percent higher than in any other region in the world. These figures vary in various regions, with 30 percent of young women married under the age of 18 in South Asia, 25 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 17 percent in the Middle East and North Africa and 11 percent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Within sub-Saharan Africa, child marriage occurs most frequently in West Africa, where 41 percent of young women are married before 18. This rate is 38 percent in Central Africa, 36 percent in Southern Africa and 34 percent in Eastern Africa.

Regionally, some progress has been made in reducing child marriage in Africa, as the rate in Western Africa was 44 percent in the early 2000s, the rates in Central and Eastern Africa were 42 percent. Only Southern Africa has shown no regional progress, remaining at 36 percent for the past 15 years. These reductions are not occurring quickly enough and UNICEF predicts that child marriage rates will remain above 30 percent in Western and Central Africa and above 20 percent in Eastern and Southern Africa even until 2030.

Age and Gender of Child Marriage in Africa

While a majority of child marriages occur between the ages of 15 and 18, there are many women who were married before the age of 15 as well. In sub-Saharan Africa, 12 percent of young women were either married or in a union prior to being 15 years old.

Data on boys affected by child marriage in Africa is limited, but it is still recognized to be a significant problem in some countries. The Central African Republic has one of the highest rates of child marriage for boys in the world, with 28 percent of young men married by the age of 18. This rate is 13 percent in Madagascar and 12 percent in Comoros.

Progress in African Countries

There are some African countries with low levels of child marriage, however, including Algeria, Djibouti, Eswatini, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia, that all have rates of child marriages under 10 percent. In the early 2000s, only Algeria, Djibouti, Namibia and Tunisia were under 10 percent. Notably, child marriage is the lowest in Tunisia, the country that has a rate of child marriage at 2 percent.

There have also been countries with high child marriage rates that have made significant progress over the last 15 years. Ethiopia had a child marriage rate of 60 percent in the early 2000s, that has since decreased to 40 percent. Zambia decreased their rate from 46 to 31 percent, and Guinea-Bissau decreased its rate from 44 to 24 percent.

Child Marriage in Ethiopia and Tanzania

Ethiopia provides an interesting case study for child marriage in Africa. Research conducted by the Forward UK, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of girls and women in Africa, reveals the cultural beliefs that cause child marriage to remain prevalent. Marrying girls young is a social norm in the nation, and families whose daughters are not married as children are often viewed in a negative light.

In part, this stems from the importance placed on virginity, and many believe that the earlier a girl is married the more likely she is to be a virgin. Girls may also be married to priests, as this is a way for religious leaders to gain respect. Priests must marry virgins, however, and therefore tend to have the youngest brides. Families also often perceive child marriage as a way out of poverty, as they receive a bride price and no longer carry the financial burden of caring for their married daughter. Some families also want to ensure they will have grandchildren before they die.

The organization conducted similar research in Tanzania, where girls may be married as young as 11 and where most marriages are arranged by the girl’s father without consideration of what she wants. Domestic violence is widespread in the nation, greatly impacting the health and wellbeing of child brides. Husbands generally do not have patience with child brides who may be too young to effectively complete the domestic tasks required of them, making them more likely to beat younger wives. Polygamy is also legal in Tanzania, which can negatively impact young brides.

Moving Forward

To effectively reduce child marriage, Forward UK recommends increasing community programs aimed at raising awareness about the negative impacts of child marriage, providing programs that will empower girls, improving girls’ access to education and establishing legal and medical services aimed towards girls and young women.

It remains to be seen whether progress in reducing child marriage in Africa will begin to occur at a faster rate. This progress would have a large impact and could help millions of girls across the continent.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr