by Katy Migiro
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When 10-year-old Wube-Enat was asked, on the eve of her engagement party, if she knew her husband-to-be, she looked shyly at her feet.
“I haven’t seen him,” she eventually whispered, after prodding from her friends.
A girl who is old enough to carry water is old enough to be married, according to Ethiopian tradition.
In Wube-Enat’s Amhara region, in Ethiopia’s highlands, 50 percent of girls are married before the age of 15. By the age of 18, Ethiopia’s legal minimum age of marriage, 80 percent of Amhara girls are wives.
“She’s married in childhood because when she’s grown up, she wouldn’t be suitable,” a local priest explained in the film “Child Marriage” by Safe Hands for Mothers, which is a member of the advocacy coalition Girls Not Brides.
“Someone could have raped her and so we need to protect her.”
Wube-Enat’s husband-to-be, Abebe, was 15. He saw her when he was out collecting money for the church, and asked his father to arrange the marriage.
“They use child and youth marriage as a protective measure for their girls,” Francoise Kpeglo Moudouthe, Africa officer for Girls Not Brides, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“They don’t realise that by doing that they are actually exposing the girls to a lot of health hazards.”
Child brides have an increased risk of HIV, maternal mortality and other health problems.
Another girl in the film, 15-year-old Achewach, developed a fistula – a hole between her vagina and bladder – after being in labour for 12 days.
“As far as my family was concerned, I didn’t exist,” she said. “My husband divorced me straight away, before the year was out.”
On July 22, the Girl Summit in London will bring together governments, charities, activists and business to push for an end to child marriage and female genital mutilation.
“I hope the summit will be an opportunity to move beyond recognition that child marriage is a problem and towards tangible and long-term commitments in terms of policy, programming and funding that will take interventions to address child marriage to scale,” Moudouthe said.