“I was forced to get married at 15”

Ahead of Girl Summit 2014, Sophie Goddard travelled to Ethiopia to speak to girls affected by early marriage

At 15, my ‘worries’ probably stretched to passing my GCSEs, or which one of my dodgy outfits made me look over 18 (answer: none). Boys played a large part – massive, even – but marriage? That was another lifetime away – one that went on to play second fiddle to friends, studying and partying for the next decade.

But for girls growing up in other parts of the world, it’s a heartbreakingly different story. In advance of the UK’s first ever Girl Summit 2014, I travelled to Ethiopia to meet women and girls affected by forced and early marriage – many of them as young as just 10 or 11. One of the girls who shared her story was Fallago, 17, who I spoke to her at her home in a rural village in Bahir Dar. Here, she explains how she was forced by her parents to marry at just 15 years old.












“When everybody was starting school here, my parents told me I was being sent to get married. I was only 10 years old – the thought terrified me. I was very unhappy. I told the Dean (our head teacher) and he spoke to my parents, telling them that it was illegal and it shouldn’t happen. For a while, things were ok – I was happy and relieved. But then, two years later, I was told not to go to school by my parents. I knew what was coming…they wanted to try again and had found somebody for me to marry. My (male) cousin ended up speaking to my parents and thankfully, they agreed I could stay on at school for a while longer. For a short time, I was happy again.

“But my parents still persisted – and eventually forced me to marry at 15 to my now husband, who I live with here in Bahir Dar. I knew it was coming – both my older sisters were married young too, I couldn’t keep putting it off. I didn’t know my husband at all. The first time I saw him was when we were both sent to hospital for pre-marriage tests (as part of the marriage routine in Ethiopia, both parties must test clean for various infections and diseases, before having sex and children). He was four years older than me. Because I knew medical tests usually lead to marriage, I kept putting it off – I had three appointments and rescheduled them repeatedly, because I knew what it would mean. When I did finally meet him, I liked him – he’s a good man – but I wasn’t ready for marriage. He felt the same – he said he’d be happy for me to study and get married later, but my parents wouldn’t have it.












“After we were married, I didn’t stay with him at his house – I ran back to family members all the time, asking to stay with them. I was scared of being married – I was so young. Because I was so desperately unhappy, my husband kept trying to persuade me to stay – he would make an effort in the house, hoping I would change my mind.

“Life as a young married woman is hard here – my day is full of chores and looking after my husband. Sometimes I stay at friends’ houses or return to my parents – but whenever I do, my father shouts, ‘Go back to your husband!’. Whenever I see my parents, the conversation always turns to the early marriage anyway – I get angry and ask why they did this to me. When I hear that British women overseas who have the freedom to live however they want, I think it would be a good way of living. I wish that happened for more girls here. I’m reliant on my husband all the time – I want independence for the women and girls in Ethiopia. I wanted a plan for myself, to count for myself – to finish my education.

“I’m the only person out of my small group of friends who is married – other friends are still studying. But I didn’t ask for this – to get married so young. My parents did it because of the culture here – they want to feel ‘proud’ their daughter is married, and to have a ceremony – but it’s wrong. I wish I’d been able to study and start a business – I’d like to be somebody’s equal, not reliant on them. I don’t dream of big things, but I’d like a small shop and to make my own money.

“I have one best friend I talk to about it, and I say, ‘Don’t get married! Stay independent if you can’. It’s important people know this. I won’t have children until I’m at least 20 – which is seen as ‘late’ here. I have the contraceptive injection regularly and don’t tell my husband, but I’m sure he knows I’m having it and lets it be. When I have children, they won’t have the same ‘childhood’ as me. They will go to school and will marry who they want, when they want. I’ve lost my childhood, I won’t let them lose theirs.”
A link to the article can be found here.