It’s not every day that a 12-year-old girl stops her own child marriage but in northern Ethiopia, that’s exactly what Yekaba did.
Now 13, Yekaba’s story could have had a drastically different ending had she not been equipped with the knowledge, confidence and support to stand up for her future.
When Yekaba discovered, through her sister, that her father was planning to marry her off to a man twice her age, she knew she had to do something about it. Luckily, her school had a system for reporting in the form of a private box where students can leave notes for their teachers when they can’t talk to anybody else.
“I wrote down what my sister told me on a piece of paper and put it in the box at my school where students can share the things they’re afraid of.” Yekaba explains.
“My teacher found the message and asked me what was going on. He asked me to bring my parents to school so they could learn why child marriage is wrong. I asked them to come but they refused.” Says Yekaba.
Yekaba’s mother was against the marriage but convincing her father, Desta was more difficult, “I didn’t know that it was all wrong.” He reflects, “I wanted to get my daughter married because I’m getting old and I wanted to have a man around the place who could help me with the work – and I’m also conscious that Yekaba needs someone to give her security in the future. I won’t be able to look after her forever.”
“I told him everything I’d learned at school from the peer-to-peer discussion group.”
“I reminded my father of my cousin’s story. She was married at the age of 12. She had a baby when she was just 14. She’s never been to school and the baby isn’t very healthy.”
Struggling to convince her father to put a stop to the wedding alone, Yekaba enlisted the help of others in the community.
For the last two years, thanks to your support, Plan International have led a campaign in Yekaba’s rural village in Ethiopia to put an end to child marriage. Though her father wasn’t aware of the risks associated with the practice, many others in her community were – among them, a leader of the local anti-child marriage task force, her older cousin and her Aunty Ayalnesh.
Ayalnesh, a former child bride and the neighbourhood representative for women and children’s affairs had a lot to say on the matter.
“I explained to them (Yekaba’s parents) that she should not get married,” Says Ayalnesh. “That she should continue her education and that she’ll have a bright future if she does so.
I told her father: “If you refuse to cancel it, I will take her and care for her as one of my daughters. And the community will turn against you.”
Finally, spurred on by his daughter’s desire to stay in school and others standing behind her, Yekaba’s father Desta made his decision. “My father eventually agreed to cancel the wedding and let me continue with my schooling. Now he is helping me pursue my education.” Yekaba says triumphantly, adding “I’m studying very hard to become a doctor.”