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In Ethiopia, a community takes measures to protect girls from harmful practices including child marriage

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Yemane
In Boset Woreda, Ethiopia, girls like Asham, 14, are at risk of harmful traditional practices such as child marriage and abduction. In Asham's case, Borchota Primary School intervened when she was supposed to be married.

The inaugural International Day of the Girl Child was 11 October 2012. For more information, click here.

By Wossen Mulatu

BOSET WOREDA, Ethiopia, 24 October 2012 -  A beautiful landscape surrounds the well-fenced and clean Borchota Primary School compound in Boset Woreda. The school has 168 female and 197 male students.

Aberash, 15, was abducted when she was 14. She managed to escape and flee to her grandmother’s house.

Lensa, 15, was raped as she made the two-hour journey to school one day. She, too, was able to escape.

Although she wanted to finish her education, Asham, 14, was to be married – until the school intervened.

Harmful practices lead to low enrolment for girls

In Ethiopia, child marriage is one of the harmful traditional practices that affect girls’ lives, choices and opportunities. According to the 2011 Demographic Health Survey, 63 per cent of women are married by age 18.

In the past five years, child marriage among women has shown a slight decline. Among women aged 25–49, the median age at first marriage has risen from 16.1 to 16.5.
Another harmful traditional practice is abduction for the purpose of marriage. The survey put the prevalence rate of women who said they had been married by abduction at 7.8 per cent.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Yemane
One effort that school principal Leta Tolla Abboo oversees is being vigilant when students are absent to ensure that they stay enrolled in school. Another has students walk home from school in groups of 10 for safety.

Deputy Head of Education Bureau in Boset Woreda Woinshet Yadesa says that harmful traditional practices such as abduction, rape and early marriage are becoming a serious threat to girls’ enrolment in school.

Girls are also inundated with domestic chores such as fetching water and collecting fuelwood. “Sometimes they walk for about five hours to collect water,” says Ms. Yadesa. “As most of the families have so many children, the girls within the household take turns in the community to fetch water, and the girl that fetches water that day is obliged to give up her class...[S]chool performance is highly affected due to physical fatigue and not being able to concentrate in class.”

A school takes measures

Leta Tolla Abboo has served as school principal of Borchota Primary School for eight years. His face brightens as he talks about the 52-member girls’ club composed of boys and girls that plays a key role in addressing these problems. “It is like a station where the girls freely talk about their problems and seek solution as they go through similar life challenges in their community,” he explains.

The school itself is vigilant. “As soon as we receive a report from a girl that she is facing any of these challenges, we first invite the parents to come to the school and discuss the issue. Also, we make them sign a form that clearly states that they will not agree to give their girl child to marriage,” says Mr. Abboo.

In addition, if a girl is missing from school for few days, the school contacts her family. The second step is to issue a letter to officials of the kebele, or sub-district, about the absence.

As a safety measure, the school has put in place a mechanism of having students walk home from school in groups of 10 in order to protect each other.

A community lays down the law and awards exemplary families

According to both Ms. Yadesa and Mr. Abboo, community-wide discussions on harmful traditional practices have been conducted by the Bureau of Education, with the support of UNICEF. These discussions have had 35 female and 21 male participants, including students, teachers, religious leaders and other community members.

After the discussions, the community prepared its own set of laws in order to control the situation, including such penalties as imprisonment and forfeit.

The Bureau of Education has put in place an award system to reward families who send their girl children to school despite all the challenges.

The law in the community is becoming firm, the girls’ club is being strengthened and dialogue between the community and the Bureau of Education continues.

And in the compound, the story is unraveling. Once a story of fear and uncertainty, it is now a story of courage, hope and the dream to become someone.



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