Rare friendships

Article Date

14 December 2010

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

At first glance, each of the 14- to 19-year-old girls looked as if they had arrived by themselves. They gathered for an informal meeting on a hill in Debre Tabor, a town in north central Ethiopia. As I peered closer, however, I noticed that peeking from under the shawls of several of the girls were babies – some as young as three months old.

I had traveled to this mountainous community to train ICRW’s partners, CARE Ethiopia, how to implement a monitoring plan for our project, which targets 5,000 child brides in this region; most of the girls married before they were 19. Specifically, we’re striving to improve their sexual and reproductive health and economic well-being through educational programs.

We talked to some of the girls enrolled in the program – which launches this month – as they sat amidst a lush grove of trees. Those gathered will serve as leaders of numerous girls’ groups in the region, each of which will learn how to save money or keep themselves healthy sexually or both. They told us shyly that what excited them most about the program was the chance to meet girls their own age.

Seems simple, but it’s a rare opportunity for these child brides, most of whom are burdened daily with household chores, raising children and taking care of their husbands. Once married, these girls no longer get to go to school. They must live in their husbands’ household with little to no autonomy. They often are not allowed to make decisions, whether about when to go to the neighborhood store or when to visit a doctor.

In the end, our effort will assess whether the girls boosted their understanding of finances and improved their ability to have a voice in their sexual relationships, among other results. But I have to wonder if the outcomes that are more difficult to measure will be the ones with the greatest impact on these girls’ lives: Things like developing friendships and self-confidence, learning to advocate for themselves and knowing how to pass all of those lessons on to their children.

View more photos from Ethiopia »

* Hayes uses the name Robyne Hayes for her photography.

Child Marriage in Ethiopia