25 million child marriages prevented in last decade due to accelerated progress, according to new UNICEF estimates

 Improving trend in child marriage driven largely by significant reductions in South Asia, but problem persists with over 150 million girls likely to marry by 2030

 NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA, 6 March 2018 – The prevalence of child marriage is decreasing globally with several countries seeing significant reductions in recent years, UNICEF said today. Overall, the proportion of women who were married as children decreased by 15 per cent in the last decade, from 1 in 4 to approximately 1 in 5.

South Asia has witnessed the largest decline in child marriage worldwide in the last 10 years, as a girl’s risk of marrying before her 18th birthday has dropped by more than a third, from nearly 50 per cent to 30 per cent, in large part due to progress in India. Increasing rates of girls’ education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are among the reasons for the shift.

“When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase. There are also huge societal consequences and higher risk of intergenerational cycles of poverty,” said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor. “Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl’s life, any reduction is welcome news, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

According to new data from UNICEF, the total number of girls married in childhood is now estimated at 12 million a year. The new figures point to an accumulated global reduction of 25 million fewer marriages than would have been anticipated under global levels 10 years ago. However, to end the practice by 2030 – the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals – progress must be significantly accelerated. Without further acceleration, more than 150 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.

Worldwide, an estimated 650 million women alive today were married as children. While South Asia has led the way on reducing child marriage over the last decade, the global burden of child marriage is shifting to sub-Saharan Africa, where rates of progress need to be scaled up dramatically to offset population growth. Of the most recently married child brides, close to 1 in 3 are now in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 1 in 5 a decade ago.

New data also point to the possibility of progress on the African continent. In Ethiopia – once among the top five countries for child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa – the prevalence has dropped by a third in the last 10 years.

“Each and every child marriage prevented gives another girl the chance to fulfill her potential,” said Malhotra. “But given the world has pledged to end child marriage by 2030, we’re going to have to collectively redouble efforts to prevent millions of girls from having their childhoods stolen through this devastating practice.”

UNICEF and UNFPA to speed up their efforts to end the violent practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Addis Ababa, 06 February 2018 As the world observes International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), UNICEF and UNFPA in Ethiopia commit to accelerate their joint efforts to end the violent practice of FGM/C.

Given the rising number of girls at risk, the two agencies believe that with increased investment and redoubled political commitment, with greater community engagement and more empowered women and girls, it is a race that can be won.

The Sustainable Development Goals recognize that female genital mutilation undermines progress towards a more equal, just, and prosperous world. They set an ambitious target of eliminating all such harmful practices against girls and women by 2030.  UNICEF and UNFPA globally devoted the theme of the year 2018 – “Ending Female Genital Mutilation is a political decision” – to engaging government bodies and policy makers to join efforts.

In Ethiopia, the Government expressed its commitment to ending FGM/C and child marriage by the year 2025 at the London Girls’ Summit in 2014 and committed itself to reducing the practice to 0.5 per cent by 2020 in the Growth and Transformation Plan. The Government has also taken key programmatic actions which include  endorsement of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children as well as establishment of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C. 

“To accelerate the elimination of the practice , we need to work at grassroots level, at scale and hand-in-hand with communities – boys and girls, women and men, and most importantly, traditional and religious leaders –  to reach the hearts and minds of millions of people,” said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Gillian Mellsop. “We also believe that it is important to address the health and psychological complications caused by FGM/C by providing the necessary health services to help survivors lead a healthy life,” she said.

“We have seen that rates of female genital mutilation can drop rapidly in places where the issue is taken on wholeheartedly by governments, by communities, by families. Where social norms are confronted, village by village. Where medical professionals come together to oppose the practice, where laws are enacted to make it a crime and where those laws are enforced. Where wider access to health, education and legal services ensure sustainable change. Where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard,” said Ms. Bettina Maas, UNFPA representative to Ethiopia.

The 2016 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey shows a declining  trend in FGM/C from 74 per cent in 2005 to 65 per cent in 2015  in the age group 15-49 years, and from 62.1 per cent to 47 per cent  in the 15-19 year old age group. The survey also shows a more significant decrease in the younger age cohort compared to the older: prevalence is 75 per cent in the age group 35-49 years, 59 per cent in the 20-24 year age group, and 47 per cent in the age group 15-19 years. FGM/C prevention and care Afar

UNICEF and UNFPA have been working  together for many years in Ethiopia on programmes to end FGM/C. One such programme is in the Afar Region which has recently been expanded to the SNNP region. The programme has a social mobilization component which aims to increase community knowledge and change attitudes towards the practice through religious and clan leaders as well as youth and adolescent girls who convene community dialogues. Tailored messages through radio and television also reach a wider audience.

UNICEF and UNFPA also work together to improve enforcement of the law through increasing legal literacy, strengthening special units in the law enforcement bodies, and supporting community level surveillance in tracking cases of FGM/C for better reporting and management of cases. The programme has facilitated the declaration of abandonment of the practice in 6 districts in Afar Region. 

Globally, the prevalence of FGM/C has declined by nearly a quarter since around 2000. In countries where UNFPA and UNICEF work jointly to end female genital mutilation, girls are one third less likely to undergo this harmful practice today than they were in 1997. More than 25 million people in some 18,000 communities across 15 countries have publicly disavowed the practice since 2008.

FGM/C survivors teach communities to end the practice in Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

“I used to believe 12 years ago that FGM/C is a mandatory requirement in our religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

Mille, Afar, 23 January 2018 – “My labor took two nights and a day. I was in so much pain. It was a very painful experience and most of all, I was a child myself.” says Kedija Mohammod, a mother of three children (ages 12, 8 and 5).

Kedija learned about the harmful effects of FGM/C through community conversations supported by the UNICEF-UNFPA Joint Programme, in partnership with Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA), to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C in the Afar region.

FGM/C or locally known as KetnterKeltti, the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, is a highly prevalent traditional practice in Ethiopia that has a multi-dimensional impact on the lives of girls and women.

According to Ethiopia and Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) 2016, FGM/C rate in Afar is 91 per cent for ages of 15-49, placing it among the highest prevalent regions in the country next to Somali. Moreover, the region practices Type III infibulation, which is the most severe form of FGM/C characterized by the total elimination of the external female genitalia and stitching, leaving a small opening for urination.

“No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

The UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme, which was launched in November 2008, promotes community-led discussions on harmful practices like FGM/C in which communities are empowered to progress toward collective abandonment.

The programme targets 9 districts (3 in zone 1 and 6 in zone 3) in the Afar region, each having multiple sub-districts. A total of 60 trainers were trained for married and unmarried adolescent girls from these districts and they are trained on harmful practices and menstrual hygiene in order to lead various discussion groups in their communities. These married and unmarried adolescent girls’ clubs aim to facilitate sustained awareness.

FGM/C prevention and care Afar
Zahara Mohammod, 28 discusses about FGM/C with “Unmarried Adolescent Girls’ Club” at Mille Woreda, Afar. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2018/Tadesse

Zahara Mohammod, one of the trainers in Mille Woreda, testifies that the programme has brought a huge difference in the community. She says, “People used to think that FGM/C is required by the Quran, but the programme has raised awareness among the community on the lack of direct link between the practice and religion. People are now listening and most have changed their stance. Women used to give birth in their houses, and we have lost many due to prolonged labor. But now, the Barbra May Maternity Hospital is a few minutes away from our village, so women go to the hospital for delivery and treatment. This is happening because of community conversations and girls’ club discussions in our villages.”

Kedija, an FGM/C survivor herself, regrets having made her daughter go through the same procedure. She says, “I used to think 12 years ago that FGM/C is mandatory and a requirement in my religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

However, Kedija is now teaching her community and sharing her experience. “ I have been working with the community for two years now and the change motivates me to do even more. People used to mock me at first because FGM/C is considered as a religious practice, but many have changed their attitude and are thankful for our discussions now. I have never thought FGM/C could have consequences like mental and emotional damage until I had my first intercourse with my husband. No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

While talking about her daughter, Kedija says, “I have shared my experience with my daughter. She is aware of the consequences. My daughter is now in grade 7. I will not marry her off to anyone out of her will. She will get married when she finishes her education. I hope she will marry an educated man who can take care of her and take her to the hospital during her labor.”

According to Seada Moahmmod, at BoWCA, these discussions have been increasing awareness and openly challenging community perspectives towards FGM/C. She says, “The community’s awareness has improved a lot, and people discuss openly about the practice. They used to think that exposing stories would lead them to discrimination, but cases are now exposed to local enforcement bodies.  Many households have already rejected FGM/C. It is quite a success.”

While positive outcomes have certainly been observed in the districts, Zahra Humed, Head BoWCA of the region, says, “The outcome of the programme has been very rewarding and the behavioral change we have attained is wonderful. However, we still need to continue working until all districts abandon the practice once and for all. ”

Italy and UNICEF sign the agreement for the second phase of the “vital events registration project”.

ADDIS ABABA, 6 December 2017: Italy and UNICEF signed today a financing agreement for the project “Strengthening the Civil Registration System for Children’s Right to Identity: Identification for Development – ID – Second Phasefor an amount of one million Euros.

The first phase of the project is currently under implementation in 50% of the Woredas and Kebeles of Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ (SNNP) regions. The second phase, which is funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for a period of 12 months, will cover the remaining 50% of the Woredas and Kebeles of Oromia and SNNP Regional States.

The agreement signed today by the Italian Ambassador Arturo Luzzi, the UNICEF Representative, Ms. Gillian Mellsop and the Director of the Addis Ababa Office of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, Ms. Ginevra Letizia, will implement strategic activities aimed at: 1)improving institutional and technical capacity of the Regional Vital Events Registration Agencies (RVERAs) in Oromia and SNNPR; 2) establishing a standardized database and data management system; 3) providing RVERAs with modern IT devices and transportation, in order to better reach remote and disadvantaged areas. 820,000 newborn children will benefit from this initiative.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Arturo Luzzi, Ambassador of Italy to Ethiopia said that: “Through this initiative, we reiterate our strong commitment to work closely with the Ethiopian Authorities in order to ensure the basic rights and protection of newborns and children, since the first crucial step of identification and registration”.

Italy and UNICEF sign the agreement for the second phase of the “vital events registration project”
Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia says: the Italy support will allow UNICEF to scale up its programmatic support to the Regional Vital Events Registration Agencies of Oromia and SNNP region.

Ms. Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, on her part said: “We enter into the second phase of this partnership having witnessed encouraging results over the past twelve months. The renewed support will allow UNICEF to scale up its programmatic support to the Regional Vital Events Registration Agencies of Oromia and SNNP regions in their efforts to further improve and standardize the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics system.”

Ms. Ginevra Letizia, Head of the Addis Ababa Office of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation underlined that “The project works at community level, raising the awareness on the importance and benefits of birth registration, that is a crucial element for each individual also allowing citizens to benefit from social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights, reducing the phenomena of marginalization and exploitation”.

Children Takeover Minister Roles as Ethiopia celebrates World Children’s Day and UNICEF Ethiopia’s 65th Anniversary

20 November 2017, United Nations Conference Centre, Addis Ababa: Today, Ethiopia joined the global World Children’s Day celebrations by giving children high profile roles to become champions of their rights. In line with the event’s theme ‘For children, By children’ child parliamentarians took over the roles of the Ministers of: Women and Children’s Affairs; Health; Education; Water, Irrigation and Electricity; Labour and Social Affairs; and Urban Works and Construction. In addition, children took over the roles of the Attorney General and UNICEF Representative. In their new roles as ‘shadow Ministers’, children shared their ideas on issues that affect their lives.

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Sara Beshir shadow Minister of Women and Children Affairs. Her message on World Children’s Day: attitudes towards violence angst children and women need to be changed. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

At the event, which was truly owned by children, some of the key recommendations proposed by children include:

  • Accelerate efforts to end harmful traditional practices, including child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting
  • Provide clean water and sanitation services for all children across the country, no matter where they live
  • Build more hospitals that are focused on child health and ensure health professionals treat children with care and love
  • Involve children in child justice
  • Ensure quality education for all children through skilled teachers, including pre-primary education
  • Ensure that girls stay in school and finish their education
  • Provide more playgrounds and safe spaces, especially in urban and peri-urban settings
  • Include children’s voices when adults and local authorities discuss issues that affect children’s lives.

Child parliamentarians from different regions also had an opportunity to discuss issues relevant to children in Ethiopia with shadow Ministers and dignitaries through a Q&A session.

In her opening remarks, H.E Ms Demitu Hambisa, Minister of Women and Children’s Affairs, stated that this year’s World Children’s Day is a day of action for children by children. She highlighted that decision makers need to ensure that children’s voices are heard and reflected in decisions that affect their lives.

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Minister of Women and Children Affairs , Ms Demitu Hambisa speaking during World Children’s Day. She says; listening to children’s voices and involving them in decision making is key. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, emphasising the need for the participation of children said, “Meaningful participation of children is not only a fundamental right – and enshrined as such in the Convention on the Rights of the Child – but is also key to ensuring that decisions made by adults are relevant to the actual needs of children.”

World Children's Day and UNICEF Ethiopia 65th anniversary
Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia speaking on World Children’s Day. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

In addition, UNICEF Ethiopia launched its publication ‘Hulem Lehisanat- Always for children’ depicting its 65 years history serving children and women in Ethiopia.

The event highlighted the importance of including children’s voices by providing children with an opportunity to share their own solutions on how to keep every child in Ethiopia healthy, well-nourished, in school and protected.

In Ethiopia, Girls Bravely Speak Up Against Sexually Abusive Teacher, as “Me Too” campaign kicks off worldwide

By Amanda Westfall

ADDIS ABABA, 9 OCTOBER 2017: In October 2017, UNICEF Ambassador Alyssa Milano sparked the viral campaign, “me too,” where she asked those who had been victims of sexual abuse to say #metoo via social media. With the goal to show the scale of the issue, the campaign shocked the world as millions of women, girls, men and boys participated.

In Ethiopia, Konjit,[1] a 14-year-old eighth-grader who attends a junior-secondary school in Addis Ababa,[2] is one of these brave girls who spoke out on sexual assault. Last year, one of her closest friends confided in Konjit and told her that their teacher had been sexually abusing her. Konjit, being a member of the school gender club knew what the teacher was doing was illegal. At her weekly club meetings, she was taught about the code-of-conduct which clearly states that those acts were punishable by school law. After discussing with her friend, Konjit decided to bring the case to the gender club to discuss what steps they needed to take to punish the teacher and stop the abuse from continuing.

The word began to spread to other classmates. More girls began speaking out to say, “me too.” They were first quiet for fear and shame, but once one girl bravely spoke out they too found the courage to tell their story.

As one can imagine, this was not the safest of times for the girls for fear that the teacher would find out and do more harm. “It was scary for us because if he saw us together he may know what we were up to. We were all so afraid of the teacher,” said Konjit.

However, this did not stop them. Konjit and other gender club members were determined to help their friends. In the end they found out that at least 9 girls were sexually abused by the same teacher, some at more severe levels than others. With support from the school’s Vice Director, Ms Netsanet Abebe, the gender club brought written statements from the victims as evidence to the school’s Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Code of Conduct Committee who referenced the chapter that leads to severe types of misconduct. The committee unanimously made the decision to dismiss the teacher. The school also referred the case to the justice department for legal action where the teacher was then convicted in court and sent to jail for his actions.

Gender Clubs in schools protect girls from violence
Ms Netsanet, Vice Director, is also the acting focal point for the gender club. The efforts made to convict and fire a teacher, who was sexually abusing girls, could not have been possible without the support of her. She gives proper guidance to Konjit and her gender club-mates about school-related gender-based violence. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk

If the incidents happened only a few years earlier, the teacher would have gotten away with his actions. However, two years ago UNICEF began supporting the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct, build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse, strengthen the capacity of gender clubs to put reporting channels in place, as well as incorporate men and boys into the clubs so that they can also play a central role in combatting gender-based violence.

Gender Clubs in schools protect girls from violence
UNICEF supports the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct and build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse in schools while also strengthening the capacity of gender clubs. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk

Today, Konjit and her friends feel a strong sense of empowerment. Each of them took huge risks to tell their stories, but because they understood their legal rights they knew it was well worth it. The girls now know what to do to stop this from happening to other classmates. As one of the victims strongly puts it, “Now that the teacher is out, no one else would dare to do that to us. We feel stronger and more confident to take action!”

In a country like Ethiopia, where the prevalence of school-related sexual violence goes as high as 46 per cent[3] it takes courageous girls to stand up and say, “Me too” and “enough is enough!”




[1] The name has been changed due to confidentiality issues.

[2] Ethiopian primary school stretches for 8 years, from grade 1 – 8. Grades 7 and 8 could also be known as ‘junior secondary school’. The official age of school entry is 7 years. 

[3] Save the Children Denmark, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Women’s Affairs. (2008)

Girls’ Club Rescues Girls from Child Marriage in Rural Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

ZIGEM WOREDA, AMHARA REGION, 06 OCTOBER 2017 – “I went to the police station when my parents told me that I am getting married,” says Mestawet Mekuria,14, a 7th grader in Ayti Primary School, Amhara region, northern Ethiopia. She is also among 20 girl students who have been rescued from getting married in the school.

“I had learned about child marriage and its consequences in our school’s girls’ club. I told my parents that I do not want to get married. But they refused, and that is when I ran to the police station.”

Mestawet went to the police assuming that her parents will only be warned seriously. But it was much more than that. Her parents were arrested and imprisoned for two weeks for violating the law.

“I was sad when they were arrested but they refused to listen to me.”

International Day of the Girl Child 2017- Child Marriage
Mestawet Mekurya, 14, 7th grade student at Ayti Primary School, Zigem, Amhara region. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

Child marriage, a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is prevalent across all regions of Ethiopia. According to the 2011 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS), Amhara region has the second highest rate of child marriage, 56 per cent, next to Benishangul-Gumuz region which has 58.

Although, Mestawet’s parents were angry for what happened to them, later they made peace with her through a mediation which was led by village elders. “My parents now understand about child marriage and its consequences. They are no longer angry with me,” says Mestawet.

Child marriage often perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty. When girls get married at early age, their prospects for a healthy and successful life will be at stake. Evidence shows that girls who marry early are less likely to finish school and more likely to be victims of domestic violence and abuse. In addition, young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s.

Girls’ clubs making a big impact

Strengthening girls’ club as part of the accelerated effort to end child marriage in  Zigem woreda, Amhara region was initiated in 2015 by the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA) through support from UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.

The ending child marriage programme focuses on enhancing the capacity of girls through providing life skill training, information about their rights and available services as well as enhancing the responsiveness of schools and legal services. It also targets families and communities to change their attitude towards ending the practice and show support to alternative life options for girls such as their education.

International Day of the Girl Child 2017- Child Marriage
“Because we have been part of the girls club, we have rescued a girl from marrying this man her family knew” (Left to right) Mekdes Degnew, Ayehush Abera and Tigist Seyoum, 14 © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

Girls’ clubs are established with the aim of preventing and mitigating school based and community based barriers to girls’ education. The clubs are making a difference in reducing child marriage by empowering girls through life skills trainings. The clubs particularly focus on engaging girls between 5th-8th grades as these represent the age group most commonly affected by child marriage.

According to Abebe Adamu, one of the trainers from Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, 106 girls were rescued from getting married in 2016 and 55 girls last year. “The community is currently aware that child marriage is harmful,” he says. “Students are also more aware of their rights to reject any marriage proposal coming to them against their will.”

Wubayehu Tilahun, girls’ club coordinator and a teacher at Ayti Primary School is pleased with the girls’ club performance. “Seeing my students continue their education gives me a great pleasure. Here in Ayti, we have rescued 20 girls from marriage in the past two years, and we will continue to be fighting against this harmful practice.”

Even though girls’ clubs are currently promoting change in schools where they are active, there are still many challenges.  “Budget constraints hinders the effort to expand the exemplary role that the clubs are making in schools and communities,” says Abebe. “We have many primary schools that do not have such a functional structure like Ayti and we need more support,” he added.

Nationally, the Government of Ethiopia has made a commitment to end child marriage by 2025 through enhanced coordination, budget allocation, accountability mechanism and availability of data. The establishment of a National Alliance to End Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is another significant stride in the effort to end child marriage as it has been key in coordinating interventions.

UNICEF supports the Government’s effort by strengthening the coordination mechanisms at different levels. Additionally, UNICEF is supporting the implementation of a multi-sectoral programmes in six regions: Amhara, Afar, Somali, Oromia, Gambella and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples region. The programme includes social mobilization to change attitudes and strengthen collective community action to end the practice. It also focuses on improving enforcement of the existing legal frameworks.

To further strengthen and accelerate efforts to end child marriage and other harmful traditional practices and to bring about the necessary societal shifts in communities, UNICEF has also established strategic partnership with major faith based and civil society organizations.

“Child marriage is a harmful practice, and I want girls to continue with their education like me,” says Mestawet. “I have seen my classmates quit school because they are married. I always tell my friends in my village about child marriage, and I will continue to do so to others”.

Mestawet wants to become either a doctor or a teacher. It might be years before she realizes her dreams but in the meantime, she keeps protecting girls in her village, including her own younger sister, from getting married early.