Girls’ Club rescues adolescents from marriage in rural Ethiopia

“I went to the police station when my parents told me that I was getting married”, says Mestawet Mekuria, 14, a seventh grader at Ayti Primary School, in northern Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Mestawet is one of 20 girl pupils at the school who have been rescued from marriage through the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage.

“I had learned about child marriage and its consequences in our school’s girls’ club. I told my parents that I did not want to get married. But they refused, and that is when I ran to the police station.” Mestawet went to the police, assuming that her parents would only receive a stern warning. But the consequences were to prove far more serious. Her mother and father were arrested and imprisoned for two weeks for violating the law. “I was sad when they were arrested, but they refused to listen to me.”

Child marriage – a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18 – is common across all regions of Ethiopia. Prevalence of the practice has declined significantly in the past decade, but still 40 percent of all girls in the country are married before they turn 18.

Although Mestawet’s parents were angry about what happened to them, they later made peace with their daughter through mediation led by village elders. “My parents now understand about child marriage and its consequences. They are no longer angry with me,” says Mestawet.

Girls’ clubs are established with the aim of preventing and mitigating school- and community-based barriers to girls’ education. The clubs are making a real difference in reducing child marriage, by empowering girls through life skills training. There is a special focus on engaging with girls in Grades 5 through 8, since this is the age group most commonly affected by child marriage.

“Child marriage is a harmful practice, and I want girls to continue with their education like me,” says Mestawet. “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.”

Mestawet hopes to become either a doctor or a teacher. It may be years before she is able to fulfill her dreams, but in the meantime she is actively working to protect other girls in her village – including her own younger sister – from getting married too early.

Support girls clubs and adolescent girls like Mestawet in ending child marriage with a donation to the Zonta International Service Fund.

25 September 2020