Ethiopia: Early Marriage Denies Girl's Education Opportunity
This month our country of focus is Ethiopia, where World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World initiative is working to provide change as a response to the needs of women and girls living in poverty in developing nations. The following story was contributed by Aklilu Kassaye, World Vision Ethiopia.
Habtam Nigussie was not interested in marriage. As a young girl who loved school, she planned to go to a university. However, a week prior to her wedding day, she learned that her parents had arranged a marriage for her. Her protests met with their insistence that she had no option other than to accept.
Now 16, Habtam, lives north east of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Early marriage is widespread in this area despite the government’s efforts to stop it. Residents of this area promise to marry their children to one another even before they give birth. Habtam’s and her husband’s parents made such an arrangement before Habtam and her husband were born.
With no option to say no, Habtam accepted the marriage at the age of 15. She recalls sadly: “Okay, let me accept the wedding as I had no option, but I said to my mom, I didn’t want to quit my school. He (my husband) had to promise to send me to school. He did in the presence of the elderly people. He however, didn’t keep his word. He didn’t send me to school even a day after marriage. This messed my life so much. I was so angry and maddened. I cursed the day I accepted the marriage. I had said to myself I should have disappeared than married him. I cried loudly asked him why you did all this things on me. To my surprise, he beat me harshly so much.”
The love she had for school didn’t allow her to sit at home as a housewife. When her husband went to farm, she began to attend the school secretly. “Learning that I was attending while he was out for farming, he first warned me not to do so again. But I didn’t quit, I continued attending school secretly. On the day he found out that I was still attending, he beat me so unsympathetically. His beating, however, didn’t leave me desperate. I still continued attending school while he was out for farming. He found out four times. He gave me a harsh beating each time,” she remembers nodding her head.
When the disagreement became worse, her mother, along with the elderly people, requested her son-in-law to keep his word to sending her to school. He, however, said no. Two months after the marriage, Habtam divorced her husband and continued attending the school. She is now with her mother and attending grade 7.
Early marriage has had an effect on Habtam. “I feel bad and get upset whenever I remember the time of my marriage. My school performance is now down by far as compared to the previous. It is as if part of my memory is taken away from me. The thing has also affected me both psychologically and socially. People point their finger at me, even at school saying look this girl is divorced. When I try to answer question in the class, I hear children murmuring. This is maddening me,” explains Habtam.
Habtam has a message to tell the world. She says, “Early marriage is the worst practice and the harmful traditional practice. It exposes young girls to health problems leading to fistula. It makes life miserable. It is a heartbreaking practice. The world should join together say no the early marriage practice. May what happened on me may not happen on the others.”