Priests in Amhara advocate to End Child Marriage

Yazew Tagela and Degu Eneyew are both Priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and members of the UNICEF supported Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage in the Bandani Kebele (neighbourhood) of the Dangla Woreda (district) in Amhara, Ethiopia.

Both are vehemently against child marriage, but come from different perspectives:

Yazew Tagela, 41, has directly experienced financial loss as a result of marrying his daughters as children.

Preist Yazew Tagel, member of the conversation group, regrets marrying his two young daughters at a very early age, having learned of the negative consequences of child marriage after the community advocates group was formed. Dangla Woreda, Badani Kebel
Priest Yazew Tagela, 41, has directly experienced financial loss as a result of marrying his daughters as children. He is a member of Bandani Kebele’s Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage, Amhara, Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

Yazew Tagela comments: “If I had known before what I know now, I could have helped save so many girls. I married both my daughters at age 12 and 16, and I really regret it. I spent 20,000 ETB (around $1,000) on the marriages of my two girls. I could have bought urban land with that, which would now be worth up to 200,000 ETB ($10,000). The girls lead a rural life like me, and do not enjoy life like their peers who were educated.

“Three years later, neither are yet pregnant, but I really worry about that. With the poor living conditions they have, if they give birth life will get more complicated. If I had not married them, they could have contributed a lot to their country through their being educated.

“My own wife was 15 when we married – I was 25. She showed such childish behaviour but I supported her and she became pregnant straight away.”

“As a priest I am responsible for these marriages as I have to marry a virgin girl, so there is so much pressure on the girls being of younger ages. But I am no longer prepared to bless a marriage if a girl is below the age of 18.

“The government has committed to stop child marriage by 2025, but I know we can stop it way before then. This Kebele is a role model for what can be achieved, a learning site. Everyone here shares ideas and supports each other against child marriage.”

Degu Eneyew, 50, has seen first-hand how girls thrive when they are educated.

Preist Degu Eniyew, 50 lives at Dangla Woreda, Badani Kebele, Awi Zone, Amhara Region. He says he values the education of girls after seeing how they can economically improve their own lifestyle as well as their family's, after finishing school.
Priest Degu Eneyew, 50, has seen first-hand how girls thrive when they are educated. He is a member of Bandani Kebele’s Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage, Amhara, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

Degu Eneyew comments: “At the age of 38 in 2003 I went back to school. It was then that I saw the impact education has on the girl – how well she can do in life. But the community sees education negatively as they associate it with a girl’s exposure to risk. We are teaching the community that if a girl is educated she will support the family. Every Sunday I include in my regular preaching to say “no to child marriage” and send girls to school instead.

“Look at the difference between two families – one which is fast to marry its girls too young, one which does not. You can see life’s consequences from child marriage – giving birth early, scarce resources, limited land. You marry a girl before 18 and it is like killing the very life of the girl. Where families are strong enough to send their girls to school the girls have jobs. Her life will be completely different.

“In the past, a priest would bless the marriage of a child. But today, if the girl is under 18 the priest will not be told. The family will conduct a customary marriage instead with any elder, but witnesses to such marriages are criminally liable.

“Hereafter if a marriage involves parties who are under 18 I will denounce it and report it to the police. If the couple are 18 or above I will bless the marriage. I want everyone to condemn the practise as an evil act.”

Determined men and women form a community to end child marriage

Community advocates of Amhara region, Awi Zone, Badani Kebele, Dangla Woreda. All working hand in hand to transform child marriage practices in Amhara.
A meeting of the Bandani Kebele Community Conversation Group which advocates against child marriage, Saguma village, Bandani Kebele, Dangla Woreda (District) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mersha

“We are not just talking about change, we are stopping children from marrying.” A group of determined men and women from various villages in the Dangla Woreda (District) of Amhara, Ethiopia, sit under a tree among a verdant landscape of hills and pasture. Cattle, donkeys, goats, and the steep banks of a river in view. There is a food surplus in this area, the harvest having been plentiful. The talk is lively and incessant as the group discuss their antipathy towards child marriage and their unified commitment to see the practise eliminated in the Kebele (neighbourhood) of Bandani. Known as the Community Conversation Group (CCG), the 35 men and 35 women come from many of the 550 households in Bandani. All are considered influential community members, be that as elders, health workers, religious leaders or members of the Women’s Development Group.

Atalil Abera, 35, chair of women's development group . She works closely with community conversation groups to prevent child marriage.
Atalele Abera, 35, a member of the local Women’s Development Group and of Bandani Kebele’s Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage, Amhara, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mersha

Atalele Abera, 35, a member of the Women’s Development Group, comments: “Our group influences other women and most women want to engage in discussions on child marriage. There were 130 child marriages in this Kebele last year. School is far away and parents fear violence against their children and defilement if they send them on the long journey to school. Many cannot afford to educate their children. I have three children and limited the size of my family by using contraception, so I could ensure they would all be educated.”
Almost every member of the CCG was themselves married either as a child or to a child. They have also faced the decision whether or not to marry their own pre-pubescent daughters and sons. Those who did, now openly regret it, because of the resulting family poverty and the compromised life particularly their daughters now live.

The CCG has “Eyes” and “Ears” members who are tasked with reporting what they see and hear regarding child marriage, prior to a fortnightly meeting, hosted by the Community Conversation Facilitator, Girma Demlash, 30.

The CCG is part of a comprehensive programme against child marriage involving multiple stakeholders. The programme is run by the local government, the Dangla Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office (WCYAO), supported by UNICEF.

Yitayesh Akalu, Expert at the Dangla WCYAO comments: “We have undertaken several trainings with community members on how to implement the UNICEF social mobilisation project against child marriage. That includes how to establish a change group known as a Community Conversation Group. We have trained 10 male and 10 female Community Conversation Facilitators so far. This is the first time we have conducted a comprehensive programme in Dangela Woreda. It is a multi-sectoral programme involving health, education, justice, the community and livelihoods, in the form of a fund to support parents to educate their girls instead of marry them.”

Girma Demlash, Community Conversation Facilitator, comments: “We are very grateful to UNICEF for helping us facilitate the community conversations. Everyone who takes part is committed to ending chid marriage. We have just prevented two marriages – those of a 10 year old and a 13 year old girl – from going forward as a result of the girls reporting to us that their parents were in the process of arranging their marriages. We are not just talking about change, we are stopping children from marrying.”