Mestawet Mekuria is one 14-year-old who is not afraid to stand up for herself. It was her courage to speak out that saved her from becoming a child bride.
When Mestawet found out her parents planned to marry her off, she said no. She knew the dangers and the future that lay in story for her if she became a child bride. When her parents refused to listen, Mestawet went to the police station.
Despite their initial anger, Mestawet’s parents eventually made peace with her following mediation led by the village elders. Like Mestawet, they too now understand the devastating consequences of child marriage.
Mestawet is one of the lucky ones. In her region of Northern Ethiopia, over half of girls are married early. Early marriage jeopardises a girl’s prospects of living a healthy and successful life, and the effects last generations, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Evidence shows that girls who marry early are less likely to finish school and more likely to be victims of domestic violence and abuse. They are more likely to get pregnant before they are ready, with girls aged 10-14 facing a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
Changing futures through girls’ clubs
Mestawet learned about her right to refuse marriage through the girls’ club at her school. Girls’ clubs have been set up across her region in an effort to reduce and remove barriers to girls’ education – including child marriage.
Focusing on girls most at risk, the clubs empower girls by providing training and information, and promoting access to services.
Through the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme, the European Union is supporting girls like Mestawet to fight for their rights and say, “I don’t” to child marriage. The programme is paying dividends.
The community is aware that child marriage is harmful. Students are also more aware of their rights to reject any marriage proposal coming to them against their will.
Abebe Adamu, trainer from the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs
“The community is aware that child marriage is harmful,” says Abebe Adamu, one of the trainers from the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, which initiated the promotion of the girls’ clubs with support from the Global Programme. “Students are also more aware of their rights to reject any marriage proposal coming to them against their will.”
Wubayehu Tilahun, a girls’ club coordinator and teacher at Mestawet’s school agrees. “Seeing my students continue their education gives me great pleasure. Here, we have rescued 20 girls from marriage in the past two years, and we will continue fighting against this harmful practice,” she says.
And what about Mestawet? Having escaped her own marriage, she’s determined to ensure other girls like her are able to do the same. “I have seen my classmates quit school because they are married. I always tell my friends in my village about child marriage, and I will continue to do so to others.”
Thanks to her courage and everything she’s learned at her girls’ club, Mestawet’s future looks much brighter than it would have otherwise. She’s set her sights on becoming a doctor or a teacher. And in the meantime, she’ll keep protecting other girls from the dangers of an early marriage, including her own sister.
Seeing my students continue their education gives me great pleasure. Here, we have rescued 20 girls from marriage in the past two years, and we will continue fighting against this harmful practice.
Wubayehu Tilahun, a girls’ club coordinator and teacher
The UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage is funded by the European Union and the Governments of Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom, as well as Zonta International.
To find out more about the Programme, go to UNFPA.org