Frontline Stories

Early Marriage Denies Girls' Education Opportunity

Habtam is determined to stay in school despite husband's disapproval.

Story and photos by Aklilu Kassaye, World Vision Ethiopia

Habtam, 16, lives in Ethiopia where early marriage is widespread, despite the government's efforts to stop it. Local residents often agree to marry off their children before they're even born.

Habtam accepted her forced marriage at age 15. "I said to my mom [that] I didn't want to quit my school," says Habtam. "[My husband] had to promise to send me to school. He did in the presence of the elderly people."

Her to-be spouse, however, didn't keep his word — not even for one day.

A determination to continue her studies

But Habtam's love for school didn't allow her to resign to her husband's idea. When he went to work, she began to attend the school secretly.

"Learning that I was attending while he was out for farming, he first warned me not to do so again," says Habtam. "But I didn't quit. I continued attending school secretly."

Physical and emotional abuse

Though back to school now, Habtam says she doesn't perform as well in school as she once did, sadly due to her traumatic experience with early marriage.

So her husband began to physically abuse her. She remained undeterred in her determination to keep up her education — but each time she went to school behind his back, he would beat her brutally.

Finally, her mother and other adults got involved and asked Habtam's husband to allow her to go to school. But he refused; and just two months after their marriage, they divorced. Now, Habtam lives with her mother and continues attending school.

But the memories of her underage marriage have scarred Habtam. "I feel bad and got upset whenever I remember the time of my marriage," she laments. "The thing has also affected me both psychologically and socially," Habtam adds. "People point their finger at me, even at school, saying, ‘look, this girl is divorced!' When I try to answer a question in the class, I hear children murmuring."

Habtam has a message about her traumatic experience. "Early marriage is the worst practice…it is a heartbreaking practice. The world should join together to say no the early marriage practice. May what happened on me may not happen on the others."

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