A social media post about a 31-year-old guy being married to a 12-year-old girl went viral last week. The Orthodox Church in the Gindeweyn woreda of Gojam served as the setting for this wedding, which was performed in a religious ceremony. The post claims that during the ceremony, authorities detained the man and those involved for seeking a bride who wasn’t of legal age.
However, child marriage is still common in the nation, and the comments on the post highlight just how many people were in favor of the union of a 31-year-old man and a 12-year-old girl.
Many individuals claimed in the comments that this was a typical aspect of our culture and that by preventing the wedding from happening, people were tampering with their norms and cultures. People involved in the campaign against child marriages were shocked by the number of people who said that the man was acting morally and blamed others who were against the marriage.
The director of the Amhara Women’s Association, Titknesh Alemu, says that in the Amhara zone, there is a tradition of marrying off girls in that age range to older men and waiting until they turn 15, when they are considered old enough to live with their spouses.
“It is officially against the law by the government and by the constitution, and subjecting a child to marriage is a crime that is punishable by law, but the illegal nature of the act is not something that stops the culture from happening,” Titknesh said, adding that instead people are finding ways to get around the law and do it in secret.
There are instances where families simply invite guests under the guise of hosting a modest family event, during which they covertly marry their daughter off, according to the director. When a family has an older daughter who is beyond the age of 18, they will often conduct a wedding in her honor, but ultimately, it will be for their younger, 8–12-year-old daughter, she said.
There have been numerous campaigns to reduce the number of child marriages, and there has been a significant improvement over the years. However, more needs to be done to influence society and the attitudes of the community. Right now, religious organizations—rather than the government—should take the lead in increasing public awareness.
On the other hand, it is challenging to combat this issue because it has ties to both culture and religion.
There are an estimated 15 million child brides in Ethiopia, of whom six million are married off before the age of 15, according to a UNICEF report from 2020. Although the number of child marriages has dropped by 15 percent over the past ten years, the COVID-19 lockdowns have increased the danger of child marriage for an estimated 10 million girls.
In addition to the lockdowns, the recent drought and the two-year war in the north have made harmful practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage more common in Ethiopia.
Between January and April 2021 and in the same period in 2022, UNICEF observed an increase in child marriage of 119 percent in areas affected by the severe drought that has been affecting parts of Ethiopia, particularly in regions where the drought hit the hardest, such as Somali, Oromia, and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNP).
Families have turned to marrying off even more girls for dowries of money, food, and livestock as a result of the drought’s impact on the availability of food and cattle, the report states. Many people have been forced to leave their homes and towns because of the drought. This makes it hard for social workers to keep helping families and keep young girls from being married.
“In circumstances where there is drought or war, and when our country is in the state that it currently is in, harmful traditions and many more that usually affect women are aggravated,” Titknesh said.
Child marriage surged fourfold even during the height of the pandemic, when schools and universities were closed and many girls stayed at home. When there is conflict or a drought, there is also an increase.
Titknesh says there has been significant progress over time, and child marriages and other damaging cultural norms have declined. However, she thinks that there is still a lot of awareness-raising to be done, particularly in terms of society.
She used the 31-year-old as an example of how, despite growing up in the city and being exposed to more modern views, he retained the mind set to engage in what is regarded as harmful practice.