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Difret: the film petitioning the US to end child marriage

Hirut Assefa, played by Tizita Hagere, after being kidnapped for marriage

When Aberash was 14 years old, she was kidnapped for marriage. She was taken to a hut, locked up and assaulted by her would-be husband. She knew she had to fight back. When she received another visit from her abductor, she saw her chance. She grabbed the gun he had left leaning against the wall and ran out of the door. Chased by her husband and his friends, she shot him.

Aberash was accused of murder and, after 2 years in court, the judge ruled that she had acted in self-defence. Her trial set a precedent and made it possible to outlaw bride kidnapping in Ethiopia. The film ‘Difret’, which will open on October 23rd in the United States, tells her incredible story.

Child marriage in Ethiopia

Girls are only allowed to marry at the age of 18 in Ethiopia and bride kidnapping has been outlawed for many years, yet kidnapping and child marriage continue to take place in Ethiopia. The country has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, with 2 out of 5 girls married before their 18th birthday.

Laws alone are not the answer explains Mehret Mandefro, producer of Difret. “There is a large gap between the laws that are on the books and what is enforced. It takes a while for culture to catch up.”

There is a large gap between the laws that are on the books and what is enforced.

“We made this film now because the director, who was born and raised in Ethiopia, truly felt it was time to talk about the issue of ‘telefa’ (marriage through abduction) which has been on the rise in the very region where the story takes place.”

A film to advocate for change

The team behind Difret and Aberash herself have partnered up with Girls Not Brides USA, as well as a number of other organisations, to ask the US government to play its part to end child marriage.

“When President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), it included a commitment to ending child marriage worldwide,” explains Mehret. “The law requires the State Department to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to end child marriage and to direct U.S. foreign assistance to programmes in countries where child marriage is prevalent. The US could play a huge part by creating and releasing this strategy in 2015.”

Specifically, the petition asks that USAID “craft evidence-based, stand-alone programmes to delay the age of marriage, foster girls’ agency and choice and promote equitable and rights-based societies that give girls the tools they need to thrive.” It is also important that USAID leverages “considerable investments in such areas as health, education and food security to ensure these programmes are being fully utilised to address related elements of the practice,” added Mehret.

At the end of September, the Difret team went to the U.S. State Department to deliver over 135,000 signatures on behalf of Aberash to Ambassador Russell, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues who announced that the Adolescent Girl Strategy would be launched in the autumn.

Take action

The petition is only the first step. “Because of the scale and scope of child marriage, we need the help of everyone to end child marriage by 2030. That means reaching the non-converted who don’t know about this issue as well reflecting on the ways in which gender norms impact us all.”

We need the help of everyone to end child marriage by 2030

Difret has several ambitious projects in the works, Mehret tells us. “We are planning a pop-up cinema roadshow where we take the film on the road throughout sub-Saharan countries where the issue of child marriage is all too prevalent. We also have an impact campaign focused on sensitising new audiences in the global north about this issue.”

The film will launch in select theatres across the U.S. starting on October 23rd. Click here to find a screening near you.

If you would like to screen the film and start a conversation in your community, Difret will soon launch an educational guide.