Ethiopia’s Worst Drought in Decades Is Leading to More Child Brides

As food scarcity increases, more families are marrying off their daughters in hopes of survival.

(Photo: Orhan Cicek/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Dec 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

The worst drought to hit Ethiopia in three decades is threatening the lives of more than 10 million people in the nation, particularly young girls who are more at risk of being married off owing to the El Niño–caused dry spell.

Barren lands and food shortages are causing more poverty-stricken families who can’t afford to feed their children to marry off their daughters to wealthier men who can, though the consequences of early marriage come at an equally significant cost, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Child marriage often robs young girls of pursuing higher education, as many end up dropping out of school to assume the traditional role of a housewife, according to global advocacy group Girls Not Brides. Though some married girls desire to continue their education, they face a number of barriers from doing so, including expensive school fees, being disallowed by their husbands, and their parents failing to see the value of their education.

In addition to a lack of educational opportunities, child brides face a greater risk of domestic and sexual violence, and critical—if not fatal—childbirth injuries if they’re impregnated before their bodies are fully developed.

In Ethiopia, UNICEF estimates that 41 percent of young girls are married off before their 18th birthday; 16 percent are married by age 15. On Friday, Ethiopian government and United Nations agencies warned of increased rates of child labor and school dropouts as drought conditions worsen in the region.

“Children in assessed areas are showing distressed behavior due to food shortages, increase in child marriage, and family separation,” the government and agencies said in a 2016 humanitarian appeal on Friday, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Women face risks of different forms of violence, including when eroded livelihoods force them into survival sex.” Young girls walking long distances to fetch water face the risk of being sexually assaulted.

The charity Save the Children estimates that some 5 million children—in a nation of nearly 100 million people—will face critical food shortages in coming months as El Niño weather patterns continue to devastate the region’s agricultural lands.

Organizations such as Save the Children, UNICEF Ethiopia, the Red Cross, and other international and local charities are working to provide donation assistance and emergency relief to the country, where 80 percent of people rely on agriculture.

Though donors have provided around $200 million in aid, UNICEF reports that the amount needed could be around $1 billion to ensure all those at risk of malnutrition and food shortages receive the aid necessary for survival.