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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 May 2006, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Ethiopian girls fear forced marriage
By Amber Henshaw
BBC News, Ethiopia

Mulu Melka from the Oromia region of Ethiopia was just 11 years old the first time she was abducted for marriage.

Mulu Melka in school
Mulu Melka (r) says she fears being abducted on her way to school
She was grabbed from behind by a group of men as she walked home from the local mill.

She fell to the ground and was dragged to her captor's house. Three months ago she was abducted again. She is now 13.

Mulu managed to escape on both occasions but marriage by abduction is a widespread problem in Ethiopia.

Figures suggest that in one region of the country 92% of all marriages result from girls being captured and kidnapped.

Mulu said: "I escaped from the abductor's house while he and his friends were drinking and dancing. I went to the toilet and then I escaped through a fence and ran away.

"In the meantime my parents had a meeting with the abductor's parents which was mediated by village elders and my parents agreed that I should go back to the abductor's house but I refused and stayed with my uncle."

HIV test

After a year Mulu, who has five younger siblings, went back to the family home.

In February, her parents received a letter from another suitor asking to marry Mulu but she refused so the 39-year-old man turned up at the house and kidnapped her with her parents' consent.

Parents don't have money for their children to go to school so they prefer for them to be abducted and married
Elleni Mamo,
Unicef
"I managed to get my parents to agree for us to be tested for HIV because I had heard about it at school and on the radio. I was negative but my abductor was positive."

Mulu's parents agreed that she did not have to marry the man.

In many ways she was luckier than most.

One of Mulu's school friends, Aberash, was 12 when she was forced to marry a man of 30 who beat and raped her causing lasting injuries.

Aberash managed to escape and went to her parents' home but with the backing of the local court they forced her to return to her husband.

With the help of a teacher she is now trying to get a divorce.

Poverty

The most up-to-date figures from the National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia are from 2003.

They suggest that in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR) that it accounts for 92% of all marriages and in the Oromia region, where Mulu lives, it is 80%.

Seven other girls have also been abducted from Mulu's Dima School in Alem Gena, about 30km (19 miles) from Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, so far this year.

In many cases girls are often raped and beaten after they have been captured.

Head teacher Hundessa Negesso said poverty was a key reason for abduction.

"If they marry the girl legally they have to pay a lot of money to the parents of the girl but when it is abduction they take her by force then the elders intervene to mediate and they pay a very little amount of money or cattle to marry the girl."

Mr Negesso said men also abducted girls when their parents would not agree to marriage.

'Terrified'

Elleni Mamo, from the United Nations children's agency, Unicef, says poverty also means many parents accept their daughter's abduction.

One of the key ways is through education at school, within communities and through radio programmes.

"Parents don't have money for their children to go to school so they prefer for them to be abducted and married."

Unicef and other charities are encouraging families to go to the police rather than to village elders to sort out abduction cases.

For Mulu and her school friends, change cannot come soon enough.

She says she is terrified about walking home from school every day or going to market for fear that she may be abducted for a third time.


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Ethiopia
22 Feb 02 |  Country profiles

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