The Journal of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health recently released a report on early marriage, marital relations and intimate partner violence in Ethiopia. Early marriage, also referred to as child marriage is defined as marriage before the age of eighteen. Sixty-three percent of women in Ethiopia are married by the time they are eighteen. In many cases girls are married before they turn fifteen years old. In Ethiopia, and other countries, many child marriages are arranged by family members. Poverty, cultural beliefs and social norms generally contribute to the acceptance of the practice. Although less frequent, marriage through abduction is also practiced in Ethiopia.

Photo Credit: UNFPA, 63% of women are married in Ethiopia by age 18

The aim of this study was to measure and analyze data that focused on comparing women who were married at early ages and those that were married in a later stage of adolescents. While the study focused on examining family backgrounds of both varying age groups it also took into consideration the nature of the marriage relationship. As to not put any girls at risk, only women between the ages of 20-24 were interviewed for this study. Topics such as education, intimate partner violence, HIV and gender roles was among the data collected.

A lack of education is just one of the many results of  child marriage. The study found that one in six women in Ethiopia was married before the age of fifteen. The opportunity to attend school is limited. In fact, seventy-nine percent of  girls under the age of fifteen do not have an opportunity to go to school. Educational levels were lower among families whose children married earlier.

The majority of  child marriages take place in rural areas of Ethiopia. Child marriage is prevalent in the Amhara region. Many young girls are raped in their first sexual encounter. Violence from their husband is a normal part of every day life. Women who were married under the age of 15, do not even recall having known or met their husband prior to the marriage. Girls who are married younger are at a greater risk of  being infected with HIV as well as experiencing complications in childbirth. The age of a girl and her educational level both play a positive and vital role in her knowledge and involvement in the marriage. Girls who are married at younger ages, and to much older men, are at a disadvantage for gaining any type of decision making power in the relationship with their husbands. A young girl’s priorities are shifted to early and she no longer has an option for education. Girls who are married young are forced to mature before they are physically or psychologically ready.

Child marriage continues to be a gross human rights violation and one that affects a majority of young girls around the world. In their latest 2012 Progress for Children report, UNICEF cites that one in every four girls in the developing world between the ages of 15-19 are currently married.

More than one third of women in the developing world marry during childhood
Photo Credit:
More than one third of women in the developing world marry during childhood

The World Health Organization estimates that over 39,000 child marriages happen every single day. That is 14.2 million girls that are married annually who are under the age of eighteen.

“Child marriage is an appalling violation of human rights and robs girls of their education, health and long-term prospects,” says Babatunde Osotimehin, M.D, Executive Director, UNFPA.

Ethiopia is just one of many countries where child marriage is a common practice. The top ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage are:

Chad and Central African Republic
Burkina Faso
South Sudan

Child marriage has devastating physical and psychological effects on young girls.

The Facts:
Girls who are married as children are:

  • Robbed of their education
  • Suffer severe health consequences from child birth, such as obstetric fistulas, maternal death and disability
  • Are at increased risk for intimate partner violence and contracting HIV
Child marriage2
Photo Courtesy:

Despite the fact that there are laws against child marriage this practice is still an ever growing issue in our world today.  Findings from this study place an emphasis on addressing early adolescent age groups in Ethiopia as well as targeting rural areas of the country. Recommendations from this study focus on education as an essential tool for reducing child marriage in Ethiopia and around the world. Most girls interviewed in this study had never been to school even prior to being married. There is an overall lack of opportunity for girls to receive an education. When a girl is empowered through education she is able to provide a solid foundation for herself and others in her community. Much of the information gleaned through this study is very common in child marriage cases around the world. The information is essential to frame adequate programs and policies that address the issue.

Community-based initiatives that ensure girls are enrolled in solid educational programs are an essential foundation for combating the issue of child marriage. The report recommends a livestock programs as a method to reducing the risk of child marriage.  A project called Berhane Hewan provides an incentive to families for keeping their children in school.

Although this global issue continues to increase, there has actually  been a slight reduction in child marriages in Ethiopia since 2005. Studies such as this one show the harsh realities related to the lack of opportunity for education among girls as well as the reality of being married before they are emotionally, physically or psychologically ready. Child marriage will continue to occur in Ethiopia and other countries unless there is a shift in cultural and social norms. Programs or interventions to combat child marriage must be holistic and focus on the entire community. Education for girls must be made a priority.

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women met in March to specifically discuss the issue of child marriage. Their strategies and  recommendations to combat the issue of child marriage are as follows:

  • Supporting and enforcing legislation to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 years;
  • Providing equal access to quality primary and secondary education for both girls and boys;
  • Mobilizing girls, boys, parents and leaders to change practices that discriminate against girls and to create social, economic, and civic opportunities for girls and young women;
  • Providing girls who are already married with options for schooling, employment and livelihood skills, sexual and reproductive health information and services (including HIV prevention), and offering recourse from violence in the home;
  • Addressing the root causes of child marriage, including poverty, gender inequality and discrimination, the low value placed on girls and violence against girls.

Want to learn more about Child Marriage? Watch Destaye’s Story

Want to learn about organizations combating the issue of child marriage?
Check out:
World Vision
Campaign to End Fistula
Girls Not Brides

Full Report: Erulkar, A. (2013). Early Marriage, Marital Relations and Intimate Partner Violence in Ethiopia. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.  Vol 39, 1

For further reading: UNFPA: Marrying too Young: Ending Child Marriage 

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