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)
In Ethiopia, two in every five girls are married before their 18th birthday and nearly one in five girls marries before the age of 15.
Prevalence rates vary greatly by region, and are often higher than national figures. The Amhara region has the highest rate of child marriage with nearly 45% of girls married before 18.
Over the last decade, Ethiopia has witnessed one of the largest declines in child marriage rates, from around 60% to around 40%.
Child marriage remains a deeply rooted tradition in Ethiopian communities. Customs such as marriage by abduction and forced unions between cousins (abusuma) perpetuate the practice.
In addition, 80% of Ethiopian women have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, and more than half of these circumcisions occur before a girl’s first birthday – revealing ingrained patriarchal ideals of sexuality and the role of girls and women as primarily mothers and wives.
Child marriage is perpetuated by poverty, a lack of access to education and an absence of economic opportunities. In Ethiopia, girls who are married before the age of 15 are more likely to be illiterate and less likely to be enrolled in school. Only 12% of married girls aged 15-19 are enrolled in school compared to 60% of unmarried girls.
Legal age of marriage
The legal age of marriage in Ethiopia is 18 years for both girls and boys, but these laws are not always enforced.
Ethiopia’s Criminal Code outlines special provisions to punish the perpetrators of early marriage. However, Ethiopia has no functional national or regional system to register births, deaths, marriages, and divorce, making it difficult for authorities to prove a girl is underage.
Initiatives to address child marriage
Ethiopia launched a National Strategy and Action on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children in 2013, which aims to tackle female genital mutilation/cutting as well as child marriage. The national strategy expired in 2015 and is now under revision.
Commitments to end child marriage
At the Girl Summit in July 2014, the Government of Ethiopia committed to end child marriage and FGM/C by 2025. A follow-up Ethiopian Girl Summit was held in June 2015 to discuss implementation of the strategy and commitments made.
UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage
EThiopia is a focus country of the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, a multi-donor, mutli-stakeholder programme working across 12 countries over four years.
Members In Ethiopia
- African Development Aid Association (ADAA)
- Amref Health Africa
- Birhan Integrated Community Development Organization (BICDO)
- Campaign Against Child Marriage in Ethiopia- The Former Child Wives’ Foundation
- 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)
- Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices (IAC)
- KMG Ethiopia
- Light Ethiopia
- 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
- Tarkanfi Sustainable Development (TSD)
- The African Child Policy Forum
- The Hunger Project
- VSO International
- Wabe Children’s Aid and Training (WCAT)
- UNICEF, Q&A: Child marriage global data, March 2018.
- Girls Not Brides, Fact sheet: Ethiopia’s national strategy and action plan on harmful traditional practices, 2015.
- UNICEF, State of the World’s Children, 2016
- UNFPA, Ethiopia: Child marriage country profile, 2012
- Central Statistical Authority (Ethiopia) and ORC Macro, Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey 2000
- Margot M. Kane, Ethiopia: Creating Partnerships to Prevent Early Marriage in the Amhara Region, 2006
- USAID, Child Marriage: Education and Law Deter Early Marriages in Ethiopia 2008