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Ethiopia child marriages surge as drought hits families

Wednesday June 29, 2022
By Antony Sguazzin

A sand storm in a camp for internally displaced people near the city of Gode, Ethiopia, on April 6.Photographer: Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

The worst drought in 40 years is reversing decades of progress made in combating child marriage and female genital mutilation across swathes of Ethiopia, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. 

In the first four months of this year child marriages nearly tripled in Ethiopia’s Somali province compared with the same period a year ago and, on average, more than doubled across three provinces, Unicef, as the fund is known, said in a statement on Wednesday, citing local data. 

Impoverished families are exchanging female children for dowries and because “it’s one less mouth to feed for the family,” Andy Brooks, Unicef’s child protection adviser for Eastern and Southern Africa, said in an interview. “These are not decisions families are taking lightly.”

Girls as young as 12 are being forced to marry men five times their age and there is also an increase in female genital mutilation, which he said is a prerequisite for marriage. 

Prior to this year’s surge 40% of girls in the region were getting married under the age of 18, compared with 70% three decades ago. Now that progress is being undone and at the at the same time schools are closing and millions of children are dropping out. 

The drought, which stretches across a number of nations in the horn of Africa, including Kenya and Somalia, has seen four successive rainy seasons fail. 

(An earlier version of this story corrected the number of years over which the comparison was made.)


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