by Alex Dionne, 10×10 Co-Producer
While Richard and I were in Ethiopia in February, World Vision took us to meet Tangut Andamlak and her family in the Libokemkem district in northern Ethiopia. Tangut, a 15-year-old girl, lives with her parents and three younger siblings in a mud hut. They are farmers, growing mostly teff, the local grain used to make injera (a flat, somewhat spongy bread served with almost every meal in Ethiopia, sort of like an Ethiopian tortilla that you use to scoop up your food).
With her father’s blessing (and financial support), Tangut attends school about 10 miles away from her home, in the closest town. Because it’s too far for her to walk every day, she lives during the week in a dorm. Her father pays for her rent, her food, uniform and school fees and supplies. While a 15-year old going to school doesn’t seem odd by US standards, Andamlak Legesse is quite an extraordinary father. Tangut almost didn’t get to continue with her education after the 6th grade because Adamlak had arranged for her to be married at 13.
Even though early marriage was outlawed in Ethiopia in 2005 (the legal age is 18), families in rural villages and remote areas of the country still practice this centuries-old tradition. It’s difficult for the local authorities to stop these marriages. Parents and village elders who arrange early marriages can be jailed for up to 10 years, but this rarely happens. At the national level, 62% of Ethiopian women aged 20-49 get married before the age of 18. In the Amhara (northeast) region of Ethiopia, 50% of girls are married by age 15.
When Tangut found out that her father had arranged a marriage, she told her teachers, who contacted World Vision. World Vision dispatched a team from the Community Care Coalition to go and talk to Andamlak about the ill-effects that early marriage on young girls. Early marriage puts girls at risk of serious health consequences, including increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and obstetric problems due to immature childbearing and undernourishment. Early childbearing has been shown to increase a woman’s vulnerability to poverty and decrease her chances of completing her education.
After talking with the World Vision representatives, Andamlak decided to call off the marriage…and had a difficult conversation with the father of the intended groom. Not only did he call off Tangut’s wedding and let her continue her education, he joined the Community Care Coalition, and now talks with other parents about the ill-effects of early marriage has on young girls.
The Community Care Coalition (CCC) was established by World Vision in 2007. There are about 15 people on this committee, including elderly people, women’s group leaders, parents, and religious leaders. When members of the CCC hear about a marriage being arranged for an under-aged girl, they try and stop it. On average they were responsible for more than 30 canceled arranged marriages in 2009 and 2010. Andamlak himself has stopped 3 marriages….sometimes having to go multiple times to people’s homes to convince the parents. Seeing his daughter, and girls like her, succeed in school makes him, World Vision, and all of us at 10×10 proud.