Child Marriage

Luck and Education

Winnie Byanyima reflects on how education can make a difference in girls' lives

Former ICRW board member Winnie Byanyima writes about how her mother, a school teacher in Uganda, used what little she had to create opportunities for her children. Today, Byanyima directs the gender team in the Bureau for Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Former ICRW board member Winnie Byanyima writes about how her mother, a school teacher in Uganda, used what little she had to create opportunities for her children. Today, Byanyima directs the gender team in the Bureau for Development Policy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

It Begins with Girls

ICRW celebrates new government and private sector investments in girls

In celebration of the first International Day of the Girl, the U.S. government and major corporations made landmark commitments to girls around the world by investing in initiatives to prevent child marriage and to ensure that every girl has a chance to finish school. ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou shares her thoughts on this latest development.

In celebration of the first International Day of the Girl, the U.S. government and major corporations made landmark commitments to girls around the world by investing in initiatives to prevent child marriage and to ensure that every girl has a chance to finish school.

The Gatekeeper

Why a middle-aged Ethiopian man believes child marriage must end

It’s hard for me to forget Tesfaye Haile. A tall man with light brown eyes and a salt-and-pepper beard, he was perhaps the most animated person I met during my week in Ethiopia’s Amhara region.

It’s hard for me to forget Tesfaye Haile. A tall man with light brown eyes and a salt-and-pepper beard, he was perhaps the most animated person I met during my week in Ethiopia’s Amhara region.

Out of the Shadows: Child Marriage in Ethiopia

Changing the Course
Wed, 10/10/2012

Almaz and Wube-Alem are 10 years old. They're neighbors and classmates. And last year, they almost became brides. Had it not been for an intervention by a handful of adults in an innovative ICRW program, Almaz and Wube-Alem would have joined the hundreds of thousands of girls forced to marry in Ethiopia's Amhara region. Learn more about the outcomes of ICRW's work to support child brides in this final installment of our four-part series in honor of International Day of the Girl.

This is the final story in a four-part series offering a rare glimpse into the lives of child brides in Ethiopia and how ICRW is making a difference for them.

AMHARA REGION, Ethiopia – Almaz and Wube-Alem, both 10 years old, cleaned house and fetched firewood before going to school this morning. After classes, they will likely head to the fields to feed cattle and gather more wood for cooking. They don’t play much, Wube-Alem says.

Both girls want to leave their rural village here in northern Ethiopia once they finish school – if not before. They have their eyes on the capital, Addis Ababa, with its multi-story shopping plazas, its busy streets where drivers make their own lanes and its sidewalks where children shine shoes for spare change and homeless mothers reach out a hand to passersby.

“If I go to Addis, [my parents will] stop bothering me about getting married,” Almaz says through an interpreter. “They tell me school or education will not be my lunch or dinner. They tell me there are men asking for me to marry and that will be my plan for the future.”

Last year Wube-Alem’s parents had also been considering marrying off their daughter.

She’s not alone. Despite laws in Ethiopia against early marriage, the Amhara region has one of the world’s highest rates of child marriage. However, when a handful of adults got word of what was being planned for the Wube-Alem and her friend, they broke with tradition and halted the nuptials.

Almaz and Wube-Alem were two of more than 40 girls who were saved from early marriage this year by adult “gatekeepers” who serve as liaisons between a joint International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and CARE-Ethiopia program and the villages in which it takes place. Stopping marriages has been one of the unexpected outcomes of the program, which was designed to empower girls who are already married. That nuptials are actually being prevented as a byproduct of the program provides promising evidence that the program’s messages about the consequences of child marriage for girls are resonating in communities where the age-old tradition continues.

Called TESFA, which means “hope” in Amharic, the program targets 5,000 married girls – most are between ages 14 and 19 – with information about sexual and reproductive health, saving and investing money and tips on how to communicate effectively. It is one of the few efforts globally that focuses on the often overlooked population of married adolescent girls, who number about 60 million worldwide. 

Critically, TESFA aims to empower child brides to advocate for themselves within the confines of a life they did not choose. By doing so, these girls are likely to have a better chance of not only growing into healthy, productive adults, but also mothers who one day may stand against their own daughters being forced to marry. 

In the program, one group of girls receives lessons on health issues, another solely on financial habits and a third receives both. The curriculum and approach used in the project were designed by CARE, which also implements the program in partnership with local organizations, while ICRW designed the research plan for the program and is leading TESFA’s evaluation. 

The key goal of the evaluation will be to determine whether combining sexual and reproductive health and financial training programs result in better health and livelihood outcomes than providing each program separately. Among other things, ICRW will look at whether the program has affected the percentage of girls who are better informed about the reproductive health process, contraception, visits to health centers and sexually-transmitted infections. Researchers also will determine whether young wives increased their savings and investments, started an income-generating activity and gained more control over household assets.

There’s reason to believe that the combined approach will prove more beneficial for married adolescent girls, says Jeffrey Edmeades, a social demographer who directs TESFA for ICRW. “Healthier girls are more likely to be able to plan their economic future and take risks, however small, and wealthier girls are more likely to be able to access health services,” he says. “This project should provide evidence about whether this is actually true."

The key to success

One of the more noticeable changes in the behavior of the girls participating in TESFA is in their self-confidence. Program staff attributes this to the life skills training girls receive in all three arms of the project and the mere fact that they are included in a program that is valued by their communities. The financial literacy aspect of TESFA appears to be particularly attractive to participants, likely because the girls’ family sees it as a bonus for them, according to Edmeades. 

TESFA also trains girls how to communicate and negotiate with others around health and financial matters. This is critical as child brides worldwide have little say over household decisions, let alone their life’s path – husbands and in-laws tend to make those decisions. The communication training is proving to be a vital element of the curriculum for girls, which was not what researchers expected. “It’s really teaching them how to talk to other people who are more powerful than them and giving them a framework to do that,” Edmeades says. 

Indeed, many girls involved in TESFA appear to be gaining a voice in their households. Some are now advocating for themselves and even convincing their husbands to, for instance, let them return to school. “That’s pretty significant because having these kinds of skills will affect all aspects of their lives,” Edmeades says.

Meanwhile, support from TESFA’s adult “gatekeepers” – husbands, in-laws, village leaders and others – has helped legitimize the program and girls’ participation. Edmeades contends the program would not work without them. 

Gatekeepers were chosen by the community and take part in discussions on a variety of topics related to married girls’ well-being and their environment. Discussion topics are fashioned in a way to highlight certain issues and challenge adults – the influencers in girls’ lives – to question what has been the norm, understand its consequences and seek alternatives to it. 

Encouraging such conversations “humanizes these girls who are often viewed almost like property,” Edmeades says. For example, many adult gatekeepers know that women die during childbirth. But Edmeades says that what they didn’t realize is that it’s mostly younger women – and girls – who are dying. 

“What they’re learning in the program helps them connect the dots,” he says. 

With new information, adult leaders like health worker Semegie Haile are speaking out. “I try to teach the community that if girls marry before 18 they could face problems like fistula. Going to school and finishing their education is more beneficial,” says Haile, who adds that residents often challenge her, saying that they need to marry girls young because it helps her family benefit economically. 

But gatekeepers continue to push back. And their influence is potentially changing the course of girls’ lives here – girls like Almaz and Wube-Alem. 

Lasting change

ICRW is still analyzing data from TESFA and researchers will gather qualitative evidence from the girls in January to help interpret it. The Nike Foundation funded program ends April 2013. 

It’s unclear whether the lessons of TESFA will be sustainable over time, although CARE-Ethiopia is taking steps to ensure they are. Among other efforts, CARE is raising the visibility of the program in Amhara through radio interviews with high level officials about child marriage and by having TESFA staff and girls share their experiences over the radio. 

“We want to create awareness of the magnitude of the problem that still exists despite many people denying the fact,” says Dr. Feven Tassew, sexual reproductive health program coordinator for CARE-Ethiopia. “Any future development efforts by the government, aid organizations and others in Amhara should involve this overlooked group of girls who are literally half the population, given the rate of early marriage in the region. They are the current and future hope of society.” 

Edmeades stresses that although CARE-Ethiopia is on the ground with TESFA, it’s the communities that own the program.

“Theoretically, the married girls in our program will carry the knowledge they’ve gained with them for the rest of their lives – and they’ll influence others,” he says. “Hopefully, if they have a voice that’s been enhanced by participation in TESFA, they will be involved in community conversations and decisions that can help change the overall environment for all girls in the Amhara region.” 

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW’s senior writer and editor.

Related blog: The Gatekeeper

OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Read the previous stories in this series:
   Week one:
Innovative Program Gives Hope to Child Brides
   Week two: The Birds and the Bees - and a better Future
   Week three: Making Every Penny Count

Watch the video: Voices from Ethiopia

Out of the Shadows: Child Marriage in Ethiopia

Making Every Penny Count
Tue, 10/02/2012

Zabshwork became a child bride at 15 years old. Now, five years later, she's involved in an ICRW program that helps married girls learn how to collectively save, invest and earn money. Since participating, she says she feels more confident, and she and her husband are now making decisions together. Learn more about Zabshwork in the third installment of our four-part series in honor of International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11.

This is the third story in a four-part series offering a rare glimpse into the lives of child brides in Ethiopia and how ICRW is making a difference for them.

AMHARA REGION, Ethiopia – It's the first day of Timkat, a three-day Ethiopian Orthodox Christian celebration of Jesus' baptism, and Zabshwork is buzzing about between her two businesses, selling shoes, soap and salt in one; beer, bread and tea in the other.

Her store and bar sit on a bend of the main road that cuts through her high mountain village, where the air is minty with eucalyptus. Zabshwork pours Tella, the local beer, into fat, slightly rusted tin cans for two customers. She serves tea in tiny clear glasses to others. Then she whizzes into a room behind the bar to knead teff dough for injera, Ethiopia's traditional bread, before popping outside to serve lunch to her husband and a couple of his friends.

She moves with purpose and poise. "Holidays are good business days," Zabshwork, who appears much older than her 20 years, says through an interpreter. "That's when I get the most customers."

In the last year, Zabshwork has honed her business acumen and found inspiration – personally and entrepreneurially – through her involvement in an International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and CARE-Ethiopia program for young married girls like her.

Called TESFA, which means "hope," the program takes place in the Amhara region, which has the highest rate of child marriage in Ethiopia. It is also one of the few efforts globally that focuses on married adolescent girls. It targets 5,000 child brides – most are between 14 and 19 – with information about sexual and reproductive health, how to save and invest money and lessons on everything from how to care for a newborn to how to communicate in a relationship. ICRW is testing whether combining health and economic empowerment programming has a greater impact on girls' lives than providing such information separately.

Critically, TESFA also aims to empower child brides to advocate for themselves – within the confines of a life they did not choose. By doing so, these girls are likely to have a better chance of not only growing into healthy, productive adults, but also mothers who one day may stand against their own daughters being forced to marry.

In Zabshwork's village, ICRW and CARE-Ethiopia are striving to equip married girls with the skills, confidence and direction that can perhaps give them a chance out of poverty. Despite laws against early marriage, there are hundreds of thousands of child brides in Amhara who are married in often secret ceremonies to men eight years or older.

"In very poor and rural settings like Amhara, there are not viable alternatives to marriage for girls, such as a thriving labor market where young women can hope to earn a living," says Ann Warner, an ICRW senior gender and youth specialist. "So, parents often choose marriage as the safest bet for their daughter's future."

Most child brides drop out of school, and without an education, Warner says girls are less prepared to care for themselves and their children and less equipped to earn, save and invest money. "Ultimately, they become stuck in an inter-generational cycle of poverty."

Savings & loan 101

The drive to Zabshwork's village follows a winding road flanked by eucalyptus trees, which dot the Amhara landscape.

The district in which she lives is one of two where TESFA is taking place. Zabshwork belongs to an arm of program that brings married girls together to contribute pennies to a shared pot. They then make small loans to each other to start income-generating activities.

Zabshwork's savings group has 14 members and at every gathering – they meet twice monthly – each girl contributes 2.50 Ethiopian birr or about 14 cents. They loan money only after everyone agrees, and a member must co-sign with the borrower for the loan. The borrower then has to pay the money back at 3 percent interest within three months.

Some girls borrowed money from their husbands or relatives to get started and have since repaid that original loan. Across the 88 savings groups in TESFA, the most common activities girls engage in include selling eggs, raising poultry, petty trade, selling vegetables and agricultural work.

Before participating in TESFA, "No one used to lend us money because we're young and they don't think we're trustworthy," says Zabshwork, whose savings group sells chili peppers and powdered beans..

The girls say that learning how to save, invest and earn money has boosted their confidence – and they notice that others are starting to believe in them, too. Being a part of the program also has given these married girls a chance to socialize with their friends and be involved in their community. That's a big shift. Worldwide, child brides often are isolated at home, overburdened with household chores and caring for their husbands, children and in-laws.

Since participating in TESFA, many girls say they now have the courage to speak up if they want to go somewhere. They debate with their husbands. Ask questions. Make suggestions. And they say their husbands respect and trust them more – especially with money.

These young wives who were once invisible to others are slowly being seen as valuable and worthy of recognition.

Profits for life

That's true for Zabshwork, too.

As a member of a TESFA savings group, she borrowed 500 Ethiopian birr – about $27 – to increase her bar's selection of beer, liquor and soda. Since paying back the loan to the group and beefing up her inventory, Zabshwork says the bar has been making a decent profit. It's the only establishment of its kind in the general vicinity and attracts neighbors as well as travelers on the main road leading to eastern Ethiopia. And now things are looking even better: Zabshwork's village recently got electricity, which means the bar can stay open past its former 7 p.m. closing time. That also means more business.

But Zabshwork says what she's learned from TESFA goes beyond better managing her businesses. "The thing that made a difference in my life is the communication," she says. "How I talk to my husband and in-laws ...I also learned you could save money, even if you don't have a lot."

She and her husband, Kefyalew – who is around 30 – have been married for about five years. Zabshwork says she learned 10 days before her wedding that her parents had arranged for her to marry.

She thought about running away. Then she thought about telling her school principal. But with the wedding just days away, Zabshwork says she felt it was too late to try to stop it.

Early marriage causes a jolting transition from being a child to shouldering adult responsibilities. Most girls interviewed for this series described daily routines of rising early, fetching water and firewood, cooking, cleaning, and, if they are mothers, minding a child. They also described painful, unwanted first sexual encounters with their husbands; many didn't understand what was happening.

Zabshwork says she remembers struggling to juggle her household tasks when she first wed, and often forgetting what needed to be done. "When you're living with your parents, they would remind you of your house chores," she says.

These days, Zabshwork seems to have found her groove. She and Kefyalew don't plan to have children for a few more years; she's taking birth control. For now, she manages the shop and bar, and he helps with the latter. Since being involved in TESFA, she says her husband consults her and they make decisions together. "I'm very happy about that."

So is Kefyalew: "She brings good ideas to our business."

And like an entrepreneur, Zabshwork is looking ahead. Her dreamis to add a 10-room hotel to the bar and serve three meals daily. And one day, she wants to supply the type of products her shop carries – instead of going through someone else.

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW's senior writer and editor.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Next story: Changing the Course

Read the previous stories in this series:
Week one: Innovative Program Gives Hope to Child Brides
Week two: The Birds and the Bees - and a Better Future

Watch the video: Voices from Ethiopia

Out of the Shadows: Child Marriage in Ethiopia

The Birds and the Bees - and a Better Future
Tue, 09/25/2012

Like many child brides worldwide, Yeshi-Alem dropped out of school after she wed and had a baby. But after participating in an ICRW program for married girls, Yeshi-Alem says she gained the confidence to convince her husband to let her return to school and hold off on having more children. Learn more about Yeshi-Alem in this second installment of our four-part series.

This is the second story in a four-part series offering a rare glimpse into the lives of child brides in Ethiopia and how ICRW is making a difference for them.

AMHARA REGION, Ethiopia – Yeshi-Alem drapes a small, woven book bag over her left shoulder for the short walk to her first class. She enters the gate of her village's only school, six mud and straw buildings in the shape of a horseshoe where students sit three to a desk and where white chalk powder colors teachers' fingertips.

On the school's grounds, she passes a tree with a fading sign in Amharic that reads "Teaching girls is like teaching a whole community," before settling into the front row of her civics class of 55 students. Yeshi-Alem is happy to once again have a chance to learn.

Being able to go to school is just one of several wins in the past year that has transformed her from a shy, self-conscious girl into an outspoken evangelist for girls' education, access to birth control and for girls to have a say in when and whom they marry. Yeshi-Alem knows about not having such choices: She was forced to marry when she was 10 and dropped out when she had her son a few years later.

Now 18, Yeshi-Alem credits an International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and CARE-Ethiopia program with helping her gain the confidence to convince her husband to let her return to school and hold off on having more children. Without the program, called TESFA, "I would have been giving birth every year," she says.

TESFA, which means "hope" in Amharic, targets 5,000 child brides in Ethiopia's Amhara region – most are between 14 and 19 – with information about sexual and reproductive health, how to save and invest money and lessons on everything from how to care for a newborn to how to communicate in a relationship. The program ultimately aims to empower child brides to advocate for themselves. By doing so, these girls likely will have a better chance of not only growing into healthy, productive adults, but also mothers who one day may stand against their own daughters being forced to marry. Indeed, they and their communities could ultimately have a role in eliminating the harmful practice of child marriage – at least in their corner of the world.

TESFA takes place in a region that has the highest rate of child marriage in Ethiopia, and one of the highest worldwide. It is one of the few programs globally that focuses on married adolescent girls. Although they make up the majority of sexually active girls in developing countries, according to Population Council they tend to be overlooked by sexual and reproductive health programs, which traditionally focus on unmarried girls and adult women.

"In Amhara and elsewhere globally, child brides are very isolated and not part of any 'system,' per se – they're not registered at birth, not registered in school and don't visit doctors regularly," says ICRW's Jeffrey Edmeades who directs TESFA "That makes them a particularly challenging population to identify and work with."

Wives and mothers, yet still children, their needs are unique to those of their unmarried peers.

"These girls have had such a swift transition from being a child to running a household, being a mother – and are constantly being exploited by their husbands and in-laws," says Dr. Feven Tassew, sexual reproductive health program coordinator for CARE-Ethiopia. "They have little or no exposure to education, friends, or even their family. Every basic right they have is violated."

For the TESFA project team, the challenge has been to create a program that gives girls a voice and direction within the confines of a life they did not choose.

Reach married girls early

With funding from the Nike Foundation, TESFA kicked off in 2010 in two rural districts of the Amhara region, where almost half of the girls marry by age 15 and nearly three out of four marry by 18.

In the program, one group of girls learns about sexual and reproductive health, including basic information that most don't know, such as how and why menstruation happens. Another learns about saving and investing money, and a third receives lessons in both areas. In each group there are smaller groups, each of which is facilitated by one of the girls.

ICRW is testing whether combining health and economic empowerment programming has a greater impact on girls' lives than providing such information separately.

Meanwhile, TESFA's adult "gatekeepers" – husbands, in-laws, religious leaders and others – serve as liaisons between the program and the villages in which it takes place. Gatekeepers' support has helped legitimize the program and girls' participation.

"The mother-in-law and husband play a great supporting role to make sure the girls can participate in the program," Tassew says. "And almost all the girls testify that this is why TESFA is working."

Worldwide, husbands and mothers-in-law hold significant power over married adolescents, deciding where they go or what they do outside of the domestic sphere. In Amhara, in-laws also traditionally decide when it's time for young wives to consummate their marriage, which is usually when the girls' physical changes at puberty become apparent. ICRW found that on average, girls in TESFA had their first sexual experience at 13 years old.

Most interviewed for this series described painful, unwanted first sexual encounters with their husbands. Few understood what was happening. Some girls said they realized they were pregnant only when an adult explained why something was moving in their belly.

Child brides worldwide have little power to negotiate safe sex practices with their husbands, and face an increased risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted illnesses. And according to UNICEF, 70,000 girls aged 15 to 19 die each year due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth. Meanwhile, children born to young girls are more likely to experience malnutrition, stunting and ongoing health problems.

"Child marriage is directly tied to maternal and child mortality and illness," Edmeades says. "This is why it's so critical to reach married girls early and provide them with the kind of information that could very well save their lives."

Imagining a future

For Yeshi-Alem, being involved in TESFA appears to have sparked a turning point.

At 18, she's been married nearly half her life to her husband Moges, who is believed to be 28. Like most child brides globally, Yeshi-Alem didn't realized she had been promised to a man. Not until she says her family one day took her on a horse from her home to her future in-laws' house for the wedding ceremony. The next day, Yeshi-Alem went back to her home.

She spent the next few years shuffling between her village and her husband's, an hour's walk away. Then, at 15 or possibly earlier – few here are certain of their age - the family decided it was time for Yeshi-Alem to move in with Moges. She dropped out of school once their son Girma was born.

Recently, her mother-in-law had been pressuring her to have more children. "'What's the use of a wife if she doesn't give birth?'" Yeshi-Alem says she told her. She knew she wasn't ready for another child, so she applied what she learned in TESFA to convince Moges to let her use birth control.

If she had another baby, she wouldn't be able to take care of it well, Yeshi-Alem told him. She would focus on breast-feeding the newborn because that's good for brain development. But she may not be able to give as much attention to 4-year-old Girma. What's more, "We don't have land, so we can't afford to clothe two kids, feed two kids and send two kids to school."

"'If you promise to take care of the older one,'" Yeshi-Alem says she told Moges, " 'I'll have another one.' "

His response? "No, no, no!" she says, laughing.

Yeshi-Alem also used her newfound negotiation savvy to convince Moges to let her return to school. Now she attends classes in the morning, and in the afternoon helps Moges at a store the couple operates, which is stocked with everything from candles to bags of barley. She also serves customers at a small food and tea shop the couple recently added to the store.

TESFA, complemented by information provided by local health workers about reproductive health and the consequences of early marriage, are slowly contributing to subtle shifts in behaviors and attitudes in this corner of Amhara. For girls like Yeshi-Alem, such changes may very well help redirect the course of their lives.

She says she feels like a different person now. When asked how, a smile stretches across her face. She's enjoying a newly discovered confidence. She says no longer feels shy. She talks to everyone, spreading the word about the harms of early marriage, encouraging neighbors to keep their daughters in school.

"TESFA project," Yeshi-Alem says, "has opened my eyes."

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW's senior writer and editor.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Next story: Making Every Penny Count
Read the first story in the series:  Innovative Program Gives Hope to Child Brides 


Watch the video:  Voices from Ethiopia 
 

Out of the Shadows: Child Marriage in Ethiopia

Innovative Program Gives Hope to Child Brides
Wed, 09/19/2012

Millions of girls around the globe are forced to marry each year. Wives and mothers, but still children, many married girls spend their days largely invisible to others. Today, we begin a four-part series offering a glimpse into the lives of child brides in Ethiopia and an ICRW program working to empower them. To see subsequent stories, photos and blogs, visit icrw.org each Thursday and follow us on Twitter through International Day of the Girl, Oct. 11.

This is the first story in a four-part series offering a rare glimpse into the lives of child brides in Ethiopia and how ICRW is making a difference for them.

AMHARA REGION, Ethiopia – Kasanesh squats to make a fire, using one hand to stack wood and the other to steady her daughter, who reaches for her mother's breast. Since she awoke at 7 a.m., Kasanesh has made injera, Ethiopia's traditional spongy flatbread. She gathered firewood. And she walked about a half-mile to fetch water from a spring, hauling the container across rocky terrain to her home.

There was a time when 17-year-old Kasanesh's mornings would include a walk to school. But that seems like a far away memory these days, ever since her parents halted her studies to make her wed a man she didn't know. Now Kasanesh feels she has no choice: "I have a home and a child," she says through an interpreter, "so I can't go back to school now."

Strikingly beautiful with haunting, distant eyes, Kasanesh is one of hundreds of thousands of child brides in northern Ethiopia's Amhara region who, despite laws against it, are married in often secret ceremonies to men eight or more years their senior. Most don't learn they're getting married until a week or days before the ceremony. Many remain isolated in remote villages, unable to attend community gatherings or even church. Instead, their lives – at least their first few years of marriage – are often defined by household chores and tending to their husbands' and in-laws' needs.

Wives and mothers, but not yet adults, these girls spend their days largely invisible to others.

The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), in partnership with CARE-Ethiopia and the Nike Foundation, is working to create a different environment for married girls like Kasanesh, one where they are valued by others and where they can gain the ability to have a kernel of control over their lives. By empowering them, these child brides are likely to have a better chance of not only becoming healthy, productive adults, but also mothers who may one day stand against their own daughters being forced to marry.

The effort is called TESFA, which means "hope" in Amharic. It targets 5,000 child brides in Amhara – most are between 14 and 19 – with education about sexual and reproductive health, how to save and invest money and lessons on everything from how to care for a newborn to how to communicate in a relationship. It is one of the few programs worldwide for the often overlooked population of married adolescent girls. And today, in honor of the first International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11, ICRW begins a four-part series, with a new story each week offering a rare glimpse into the lives of child brides and how TESFA is making a difference for them.

The program is one of ICRW's latest endeavors in a nearly 20-year commitment to documenting the causes and consequences of child marriage and devising solutions to prevent it. ICRW is now taking a unique approach by focusing on understanding what works to empower girls who are already married and better conditions for them within the system they must live.

Meanwhile, calls for action are growing louder, with international organizations such as ICRW banding together to spotlight child brides' plight and their potential. This unprecedented attention is being driven by new groups such as Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage, and individuals like photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair, who makes powerful images to educate the world about the lives of girls forced into marriage. Grassroots groups around the world are mobilizing against the practice, too. And legislators in the United States, Great Britain and elsewhere are pushing legislation to eliminate early marriage.

Advocates and research experts say that the movement to end child marriage and support girls like Kasanesh who are already married will not only better the lives of millions of girls worldwide – it will also better the world.

"Keeping unmarried girls out of wedlock and in school, as well as providing more information and resources to already married girls,has a ripple effect," says Ann Warner, an ICRW senior gender and youth specialist. "Educated, informed and empowered girls will have a better chance to make the most of their lives, and to contribute productively to their families and communities. And that ultimately has a huge impact on major development priorities, such as improving global health, literacy and economic security, and alleviating hunger and gender-based violence."

Childhood ends after vows

Forced marriage persists around the globe, from Nepal to Nicaragua and Yemen to Uganda. It is a complex tradition, one fueled significantly by poverty and gender inequality; tied to parents' desire to provide more for their family, and to a certain extent, protect their daughters.

In many developing nations, where girls are often valued less than boys, marrying daughters early can be viewed as a way to ease a family's financial burden; it's one less mouth to feed. In some countries, child marriage can mean a small dowry or a gift of cattle or land to farm from the future husband's family. And as is often the case worldwide, including in Amhara, girls' virginity holds a high price: many parents believe early marriage protects their daughters from sexual violence and "dishonor," and secures their economic future.

But for girls like Kasanesh, there is little benefit to this arrangement. Girls' childhood swiftly ends with the exchange of vows: Worldwide, most child brides drop out of school. Girl wives are more likely to experience domestic violence. Their mobility is restricted and they have little power in household decisions. And in many countries, young brides often are at risk of a slew of health problems, including life-threatening complications from early pregnancy and childbirth.

"The overwhelming majority of births to adolescents happen within marriage, not outside it," says ICRW's Jeffrey Edmeades, a social demographer who leads the TESFA program for ICRW. "That's why supporting these girls when they first wed and become mothers is so critical – it will impact their and their family's health and economic status for decades."

Despite the tragic outcomes and despite the pull of custom, research experts say traditions can change. There are signs of this happening in Ethiopia: A national law requires consenting couples to be at least 18 years old to marry. Elementary school students learn about the law in their civics classes, as well as about the health and economic consequences of early marriage. The country's health ministry has built clinics and deployed workers into villages to provide much-needed services and education, including about early marriage.

Such educational efforts are leading some families to consider alternatives to early marriage.Still, more global attention is needed for girls who are already married and no longer in school – girls who feel they have no choice, no chance for a fuller life.

They are girls like Kasanesh who, for now, remains one of the invisible ones.

A young bride's new life

Kasanesh and her 28-year-old husband Shiferaw live at the edge of a cliff in a small, traditional home with dirt floors and a cone-shaped straw roof. Most every day for Kasanesh is filled with household chores – gathering firewood and water, caring for their 1-year-old daughter, cooking, sweeping.

Kasanesh is not yet participating in TESFA, but will start in December, along with nearly 480 other married girls.

She speaks almost in a whisper, her eyes downcast. A large cross hangs from her neck, and like many girls here, she wears a loose dark green dress to her calves. She is happiest, she says, when she's able to be with other girls her age.

Kasanesh is Shiferaw's second wife; his first marriage ended in divorce. Friends alerted Kasanesh that she was going to be married three days before the 8 p.m. ceremony. "I was not happy when I found out," Kasanesh says. "I was more happy in school."

On her wedding night, an uncle brought her to her in-laws' home where she lived for her first year of marriage. "I cried the first two, three days," she says. "And after that, the family helped me get through it."

After a year, Kasanesh moved in with Shiferaw, a lanky man with an easy, friendly smile. "I didn't understand what was going on. I was still a child," she says. Later, she didn't understand how a baby came to grow in her belly.

Kasanesh's future, however, may already have been determined by her own parents' decision. She wanted to finish her studies, get a government job one day. She feels there's no chance of that, now that she's married.

She is a different person today since being forced to wed.

"I'm much older now than I used to be a year ago," Kasanesh says. "I feel like I've lived more than my age."

Gillian Gaynair is ICRW's senior writer and editor.

OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Next story: The Birds and the Bees - and a Better Future
Watch the video: Voices from Ethiopia

Join the Effort to End Child Marriage

Join the Effort to End Child Marriage

Organizations advocate for more US investment in preventing child marriage
Thu, 09/06/2012

In honor of the first International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11, ICRW and other global organizations are calling on President Obama to increase political and financial investments in girls to end child marriage and support girls who are already married. We invite you to take part in this important effort.

For the past two decades, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has been a leader in using research and advocacy to show that child marriage is a grave human rights violation, as well as an obstacle to many development goals. Now, ICRW is focused on how to prevent – and ultimately end – this harmful traditional practice. We urge you to join us in this effort as we approach Oct. 11, which the United Nations has designated as the first International Day of the Girl

As co-chair of Girls Not Brides: U.S. Partnership to End Child Marriage, ICRW and other global organizations are calling on President Obama to increase political and financial investment in girls to end child marriage as well as to support girls who already are married. 

Congress demonstrated its bipartisan commitment to address the issue when, in May, U.S. senators for the second time in two years endorsed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. The bill was then introduced in July in the House of Representatives. The legislation describes child marriage as a human rights violation and recommends that eliminating it should be a U.S. foreign policy goal. It also requires the U.S. government to design an integrated approach to reduce, and ultimately end the practice. 

The same bill passed the Senate in December 2010, but its final passage was blocked in the House. Legislators in the House are not expected to take up the vote this time around, so ICRW and other organizations worldwide are now turning to the Obama administration, calling for more investment to reach girls and their communities through child marriage prevention and married adolescent programs. 

You, too, can join this important effort. In honor of the first International Day of the Girl, you can write a personal letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to prioritize child marriage. Handwritten letters are one of the most effective ways to influence government officials and make an impact. Send your letter to the Girl Up offices by Sept. 24, and it – along with other letters from across the country – will be delivered to Sec. Clinton before International Day of the Girl Child. 

Girl Up is a campaign of the United Nations Foundation and member of the Girls Not Brides partnership. 

Here are a few tips for writing to Sec. Clinton: 

  • Introduce yourself. List your “credentials” (name, address) and be sure to mention by you feel strongly about helping adolescent girls around the world.
  • Personalize it. Sending a personalized letter will generate more attention than a template letter. And be creative – officials want to hear your stories, not just facts and figures.
  • Be concise. Letters should be no longer than one page.
  • Ask for something. Be sure your letter clearly asks Sec. Clinton for political and financial support to end child marriage. For emphasis, restate this “ask” at the end of the letter.
  • Be polite. Manners go a long way and the letters should be passionate, but not pushy. Remember to thank Sec. Clinton for her leadership on women and girls’ issues.

Here is a sample letter template.

All letters must be posted to the Girl Up offices by Sept. 24. Send your letters to:

Girl Up c/o Julie Willig
 1800 Massachusetts Ave.
Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036

Op-ed Urges U.S. Leaders to End Child Marriage

Wed, 08/01/2012

In this Washington Post op-ed, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu call on United States legislators and the Obama administration to make eliminating child marriage a foreign policy goal.

Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu in today's Washington Post explain how child marriage robs girls of opportunities and undermines international development efforts. Michel was the first education minister of Mozambique and Tutu is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town. Both are members of The Elders, a group of independent world leaders working for human rights and peace.

In their op-ed, Michel and Tutu urge United States legislators as well as the Obama administration to make ending early marriage worldwide a foreign policy goal. For the second time in two years, U.S. senators in May endorsed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act. Now the bill awaits a decision in the House of Representatives.

ICRW has long supported the legislation, which describes child marriage as a violation of girls' human rights and offers solutions to end the practice. We continue our advoacy efforts with the U.S. Congress and the administration, in partnership with Girls Not Brides, a global partnership founded by The Elders. ICRW co-chairs Girls Not Brides: The U.S. Partnership to End Child Marriage.

GIVE VOICE TO CHILD BRIDES: Help ICRW raise awareness about child marriage in countries like Ethiopia and India.

Addressing Girls’ Education and Early Marriage in Ethiopia

Adolescent girls in Amhara face a number of social, cultural and economic challenges.  Social practices, such as early and forced marriage and inequitable gender norms curtail girls’ health and agency in several important domains, including: educational achievement, decision-making power, sexual and reproductive health empowerment, and resistance to poverty. The region has a long history of arranged and forced child marriage that continues today. According to the 2011 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey, almost sixty percent (59.5%) of women aged 20-24 were married before the legal age of 18. Though Ethiopia has made significant progress in improving gender parity in primary education, girls remain far less likely than their male counterparts to successfully transition to secondary education. While the causal linkages between school dropout and marriage are complex, research in a number of contexts has documented the strong link between schooling and delayed marriage.

In order to address these issues, the Amhara Development Association (ADA)—with funding from the David & Lucile Packard Foundation—has been implementing a large-scale, multi-level intervention to promote girls education, delay marriage, and mainstream sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education within the school system. ADA’s intervention is based on three interrelated components: 1) Empowering girls with psychosocial life skills and improving their access to quality SRH information and services; 2) Enhancing gender responsiveness within schools; and 3) Fostering community support for girls’ education and SRH empowerment. The first phase of the project was implemented from June 2010 through July 2013. During this period, ADA reached over 140,000 male and female students, provided direct support to 181 schools, trained 3,490 teachers, and helped establish 170 community groups committed to girls’ education.

ICRW is currently conducting a 2 year evaluation of ADA’s program in Amhara, with the aim of addressing key gaps in the field’s knowledge of effective school-based approaches targeting early marriage. This research is expected to generate evidence-based recommendations for policy makers and programmers working to delay marriage. With support from the Lucile Packard Foundation, ICRW will undertake three main activities:

  • Conduct a qualitative assessment to document the implementation process and explore strengths, challenges, achievements and lessons learned in the prior implementation; 
  • Provide technical support to ADA to strengthen their research, monitoring and evaluation capabilities; and
  • Carryout a rigorous impact evaluation of the current phase of programming on the retention of female students.
Duration: 
2013 - 2015
Location(s): 
Ethiopia
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