UNICEF: Ethiopia Seeing Dramatic Surge In Child Marriages


Unicef has warned that Ethiopia is seeing a “dramatic” surge in child marriages as the Horn of Africa suffers from one of the worst droughts in decades.

According to Catherine Russell, executive director of Unicef, poor conditions forced Ethiopian girls to marry at a younger age so that their parents could obtain a larger dowry.

Parents also hoped that their girls would be cared for by families with more money and resources.

Parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are experiencing the driest weather in more than 40 years, displacing millions of people and causing severe starvation.

Child marriage instances in East Hararghe, which is part of the Oromia region, surged from 70 cases in 2020-21 to 106 cases a year later, according to local government statistics.

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Child marriage has also increased significantly in five other districts of Oromia.

Ms Russell described the rise in child marriages as “quite dramatic,” adding that the drought had caused more than 600,000 youngsters to drop out of school.

Young girls who are forced to leave their homes are more vulnerable to gender-based violence, she noted.

“These people [have their daughters married] because they’re desperate for one reason or another: they’re afraid of violence; they’re afraid for the safety of the girls; they need resources; they can’t afford to feed them,” Ms Russell explained to The Guardian.

Ms Russell, who has been visiting drought-stricken communities this week, said the organization has already begun treating malnourished children who are forced to drink filthy water.

This comes as UN relief head Martin Griffiths warned last week that two million children face starvation and that the UN only has a fraction of the $1.4 billion needed to respond to the drought.


“The harsh truth we must acknowledge today is that we are in a race against time again to avert large-scale loss of life in 2022, and we don’t have the resources to do so,” he stated during a closed-door donor meeting in Geneva.

“We must act now on a no-regrets basis. Lives are literally hanging in the balance.”

A fourth failed rainy season in the region is now a rising possibility, resulting in one of the greatest climate-related calamities in the region’s history, according to Mr Griffiths.

Heatwaves, droughts, and extreme rains, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will become more common in the next decades as global temperatures rise.