Photo credit: Ashenafi Tibebe | Girls Not Brides
Child marriage rates
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 15
UNICEF 2017 % Married by 18
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
Ethiopia has the 14th highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, and has the fourth highest absolute number of women married or in a union before the age of 18 globally – 2,276,000.
5% of boys are married before the age of 18.
The Amhara region records the highest rates of child marriage in Ethiopia, with approximately 45% of girls getting married before the age of 18 years. UNICEF has also identified hotspots for child marriage in the regions of Oromia, Gambella and Somali.
A 2017 World Bank/ICRW study estimated that ending child marriage in Ethiopia could generate a 9.3% rise in earnings for women who married early, and up to USD1.5 billion in additional earnings and productivity for the whole country.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that girls are somehow inferior to boys.
In Ethiopia, child marriage is exacerbated by:
- Level of education: A low value is placed on girls’ education and some parents worry about sending their daughters far away to secondary school where they risk being abducted or raped. As a result, 68% of Ethiopian girls with no education were married before the age of 18, compared to 13% who completed secondary education.
- Poverty: Child brides in Ethiopia are more likely to reside in poor households and in rural areas. 58% of girls living in the poorest households are married before the age of 18.
- Gender norms: Girls are seen primarily as wives and mothers and are sometimes stigmatised as “impure” or “too old” if they do not marry at a young age. Some choose to marry to avoid gossip or being labelled as haftuu (unwanted).
- Traditional attitudes: Many parents believe that marriage after 15 is no longer “early”. A 2014 study found that some parents were not convinced child marriage is wrong.
- Traditional harmful practices: Customary traditions such as forced unions between cousins (abusuma), marriage by abduction to avoid paying bride price (telefa) and arranged marriages are common. In a 2013 Population Council study, 71% of interviewed Ethiopian women who were married before 15 met their husband on their wedding day.
- Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is used to control female sexuality and can be seen as a precursor to marriage. In Ethiopia 65% of women aged 15-65 years have experienced FGM. Some Ethiopian girls who do not undergo FGM/C are told they will be unable to find a husband, and some parents fear that if they do not engage in FGM/C they will be socially sanctioned by the community.
- Social status: A 2014 study by Young Lives found that bride price was used by families to gain prestigious status rather than as an economic survival tool.
- Self-initiated marriage: Friendly and explorative relationships among boys and girls after puberty can drive child marriage. Some girls may marry because they believe they are in love, want the prestige of being a married woman, or wish to assert independence from their parents. However, girls’ beliefs and decisions are shaped by social norms and the limited options they may have, including for completing their education and going into employment.
Humanitarian settings can encompass a wide range of situations before, during, and after natural disasters, conflicts, and epidemics. They exacerbate poverty, insecurity, and lack of access to services such as education, factors which all drive child marriage. While gender inequality is a root cause of child marriage in both stable and crisis contexts, often in times of crisis, families see child marriage as a way to cope with greater economic hardship and to protect girls from increased violence. Ethiopia faces a huge internal displacement crisis due to inter-communal violence, conflicts and climate shocks. As of October 2019, Ethiopia also hosted more than 700,000 refugees, mainly from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.
Displacement: Ethiopia hosts some of the highest numbers of refugees in the world. A 2017 study showed that Somali refugees in Ethiopia are much more likely to marry young due to a lack of education and viable future alternatives.
What has this country committed to?
Ethiopia has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. During its Voluntary National Review at the 2017 High Level Political Forum, the government highlighted that its Women and Policy strategies address the elimination of child marriage.
Ethiopia co-sponsored the following Human Rights Council resolutions: the 2013 procedural resolution on child, early and forced marriage, the 2015 resolution on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2017 resolution on recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts. In 2014, Ethiopia also signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Ethiopia acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1981, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
In 2019, the CEDAW Committee expressed concerns about the prevalence and the underreporting of cases of child marriage. The Committee recommended Ethiopia to remove the exception to the minimum age for marriage and effectively implement the national strategy and action plan on harmful traditional practices against women and children.
During its 2014 Universal Periodic Review, Ethiopia supported recommendations to address deeply-rooted child marriage practices. During its 2019 Universal Periodic Review, Ethiopia agreed to examine recommendations to accelerate progress to end gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls, including child, early and forced marriage.
In 2002 Ethiopia ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, including Article 21 regarding the prohibition of child marriage. In 2018 Ethiopia ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, including Article 6 which sets the minimum age for marriage as 18.
The Government of Ethiopia launched the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa in November 2014.
Ethiopia is one of 20 countries which has committed to ending child marriage by the end of 2020 under the Ministerial Commitment on comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people in Eastern and Southern Africa.
At the London Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
Ethiopia is one of the countries where the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)/DREAMS Initiative is working to reduce rates of HIV among adolescent girls and young women.
Ethiopia is a partner country of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
Ethiopia is a focus country of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, a multi-donor, multi-stakeholder programme working across 12 countries over four years. Despite insecurity in some parts of the programme areas, in 2018 the Global Programme enabled a total of 73,771 adolescent girls to continue with their education and more than 170000 individuals, including religious leaders, were engaged in participatory dialogues to increase awareness on ending child marriage, among other topics.
In 2019, the President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde presented the National Costed Roadmap to End Child Marriage and FGM/C 2020–2024, developed by the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth with the support of UNFPA, UNICEF, and UN Women. The National Roadmap stipulates the approaches and evidence-based interventions to eliminate child marriage and FGM/C by 2025, throughout in five strategies:
- Empowering adolescent girls and their families.
- Community engagement (including with faith and traditional leaders).
- Enhancing systems, accountability and services across sectors.
- Creating and strengthening an enabling environment.
- Increasing data and evidence generation and use.
The National Roadmap contains detailed costed plans for the federal level and regions.
There are also programmes to end child marriage at regional level in Afar, Amhara and Tigray.
Previous initiatives to end child marriage in Ethiopia include:
- The National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children in Ethiopia, launched in 2013 to institutionalise national, regional and grassroots mechanisms for the prevention and elimination of all forms of harmful cultural practices.
- The National Harmful Traditional Practices Platform, established to provide a framework to implement laws and measure progress towards eliminating child marriage by 2025.
- The National Alliance to End Child Marriage in Ethiopia by 2025, led by the Ministry of Children, Women and Youth Affairs, which aims at identifying the drivers of child marriage across Ethiopia and to locate examples of best practice.
- The first ever Ethiopian Girl Summit, which took place in Addis Ababa in June 2015. The government reiterated commitments to eliminate child marriage by 2025 and a representative from the Inter Religious Council stated that child marriage cannot be justified through religion.
- Ethiopia’s National Action Plan for Gender Equality 2006-2010 acknowledged the problems caused by child marriage and its link to school dropout rates. It proposed sensitising communities to the dangers of marrying young.
Other initiatives include:
- The Dutch-funded Yes, I Do Alliance and Her Choice Alliance, that work to address issues driving child marriage in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association educates community leaders, law enforcement agencies and judicial bodies on Ethiopia’s revised Family Law, and provides legal aid and shelter to girls who escape child marriage.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
However, the Minister of Justice may grant dispensation for individuals to marry at 16 years upon application by themselves or their parents/guardians. In addition, the legal age for marriage is rarely enforced and girls often marry before 18 years in religious and customary marriages.
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* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)
Members In Ethiopia
- African Development Aid Association (ADAA)
- Amref Health Africa
- Birhan Integrated Community Development Organization (BICDO)
- Bright Vision for Community (BVC)
- Campaign Against Child Marriage in Ethiopia- The Former Child Wives’ Foundation
- Care For Life
- Center of Concern
- Development Expertise Center (DEC)
- Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
- Enhance Worldwide
- Enhancing Child Focused Activities (ECFA)
- Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia
- Forum on Sustainable Child Empowerment (FSCE)
- Hiyaw Fikir Yelijoch Ena Yewetatoch Limat Mahiber (HFLWLM)
- Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC)
- KMG Ethiopia
- Light Ethiopia
- Link Education International
- Love In Action Ethiopia (LIAE)
- Mahibere Hiwot for Social Development (MSD)
- Organisation for Development of Women and Children in Ethiopia (ODWACE)
- Pathfinder International
- Plan International
- Population Council
- Talent Youth Association (TaYA)
- Tarkanfi Sustainable Development (TSD)
- The African Child Policy Forum
- The Hunger Project
- VSO International
- Wabe Children’s Aid and Training (WCAT)