CHILD-MARRIAGE in Ethiopia is on the rise, fuelled by the ongoing drought, World Vision has warned.
The international aid agency reported this week that food shortages caused by “catastrophic” droughts in the country are encouraging struggling farmers to marry off their daughters — some as young as 13 — to wealthy men, to avoid poverty.
Currently, two in five girls in Ethiopia (40 per cent) are married before the age of 18. One girl in five marries before reaching the age of 15.
Kebede Gizachew, of World Vision Ethiopia, explained: “Culturally, girls are expected to do all the housework, including fetching clean water, cooking food, and taking care of siblings. During critical conditions, such as the current drought, all of the burden falls on girls, and subsequently they are forced into unwanted marriages, abandoning their education in the process.
“Educating children is building the future. When children of school age are out of school, they are not only unproductive but a burden to society. It also means a failed future.”
Nejuma, aged 15, was forced to drop out of school because failed crops meant that her farming family could no longer pay for food, school supplies, or clothes. “I had to support my mother with some house chores, because my father went in search of daily labour,” she said.
World Vision has been helping farmers to rebuild their capital by setting up irrigation schemes, digging wells, extending water pipelines, and providing drought-resistant seeds. It has also been working with Ethiopian communities, and with local religious and government leaders, to cancel planned child-marriages, and to encourage families to keep girls in school, where there are free meals and supplies. This has helped Nejuma to return and continue her education.
The national director of World Vision Ethiopia, Edward Brown, said: “Children are suffering the consequences of the drought, and food shortages — including dropping out of school, [undertaking] strenuous labour, and pressure put on young girls to marry men with money. We cannot let this happen, and we know how to help prevent it.”
World Vision estimates that as many as seven million people in Ethiopia will need relief assistance this year, at a cost of about £640 million. Last year, the charity provided emergency clean water, food, education, and health and nutrition services to 1.25 million people affected by drought.