Quiet determination

Jeff Edmeades |

Child Marriage, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

She wanted to stay in school, but was forced to marry at 16. After just two days at her husband’s home, she ran away, back to her parents’ doorstep. They refused to take her in.

The young woman, now 20, told me her story while we sat in a grassy field in a small village in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. I love visiting this area. The people are wonderful and welcoming and the hilly landscape is spectacular, with its patchwork quilt of various shades of green.

But life is hard, especially for women and girls. The region holds the unfortunate distinction of having one of the highest rates of child marriage on the planet. In most cases, marriages are arranged by the parents of the girl and her husband. And in some situations, girls are forced into marriage by being abducted or raped – a disturbingly common practice. When this happens, girls’ families often feel they have no choice but to accept the marriage proposal from the perpetrator, since the marital prospects of their daughter are now limited because she’s no longer a virgin.

ICRW is working with CARE Ethiopia to improve these child brides’ sexual and reproductive health and economic well-being. I had an opportunity to talk with some of the girls and young women about their lives. That’s when I met the resilient 20-year-old woman, who spoke almost in a whisper, and clung to the girl beside her the whole time we chatted.

Even though her parents refused to take her back when she ran home, she was persistent. She slept outside their home for days. Eventually, they relented. She told me she’s now divorced, a status that’s frowned upon in her community. It’ll be difficult for her to marry again. But – and this made me happy – she returned to her studies and proudly told me she was preparing for school exams. She had paid for her school needs by joining an existing savings and loan group and raising money by selling small items at the local market. While her story was different from most in that she had managed to escape an unwanted marriage, it was clear that she needed ways to improve her life.

I hope our efforts will give her a jump start.

A young woman in Ethiopia escapes her forced child marriage to return to school.

Jeff Edmeades
Jeff Edmeades

Dr. Jeffrey Edmeades is a Senior Social Demographer at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). In this role, Edmeades manages a variety of projects in which he provides technical assistance to partners, designs and conducts program evaluations and executes data analysis. His research primarily focuses on the interaction between the development process and demographic behavior, including fertility, contraceptive use and migration as well as household decision-making processes and the role gender norms play in shaping demographic outcomes.

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