In the Amhara regional state of Ethiopia, 50 percent of girls are married before the age of 15.1 Many are betrothed even earlier and sent to live with their future husband’s family by the age of nine or ten. Early marriage is one of many harmful traditional practices that are particularly prevalent in rural areas, along with female genital cutting, abduction, and unattended births.
The effects of early marriage are devastating. Girls married young suffer major disadvantages physically, emotionally, economically, and socially. Dr. Eskael Petros, the attending OB/GYN at Debremarkos Hospital, says “I face the complications of early marriage every day. Medically speaking, these girls are not well grown. During an obstructed labor the girl will labor for three to four days before the family brings her in, at which point the fetus is usually dead and the birth canal is often atrophied and torn.”
Girls married early are at greater risk for reproductive health complications and gender-based violence, including marital rape, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, obstructed labor, and obstetric fistula. Due to exploitation and domination by their older husbands and in-laws, they are not able to create supportive social or economic networks through family or friends, are more likely to get divorced or abandoned at a young age, and are more likely to run away from home and become exposed to risky behavior in the cities, including prostitution. They do not complete their schooling and thus are more likely to grow impoverished and suffer from malnutrition.
Pathfinder International/Ethiopia manages a large reproductive health and family planning project, which includes HIV/AIDS prevention and women’s empowerment activities, in 278 woredas (districts) in Ethiopia, through 46 local Implementing Partner Organizations. Pathfinder works in collaboration with these partners to prevent early marriage through extensive advocacy efforts, paired with community and legal interventions through its community-based reproductive health programs.