Must Read: Married At 10, Pregnant At 13 & Widowed By 14- Child Bride Tells Her Story
Alemtsahye Gebrekidan was 10 when her childhood came to
an abrupt end. â€˜I was playing outside and my mum called
me inside to the house,â€™ she remembers of the day her
world changed forever.
â€˜She said â€œyouâ€™re going to marryâ€. I was surprised and I cried
but I didnâ€™t say anything to them [her parents].â€™ Her wedding,
to a boy of 16, took place just two months later.
Shocking though it might seem, her experience is by no
means unique. According to World Health Organisation
figures, 14.2 million girls under the age of 15 are forced into
marriage each year.
â€˜I was in school,â€™ she remembers, â€˜although I stopped the
school when I was married. I do have happy memories of
childhood â€“ it was just eat and play.â€™
All that ended when it was decided she would marry a boy,
who until the day of their wedding, she had never met.
â€˜I didnâ€™t know him,â€™ she says. â€˜I was OK when I saw him â€“ he
was a child like me. He was upset as well, the same like meâ€¦
he was 16 years old.â€™
Read the rest of her sad story after the cut
As Alemtsahyeâ€™s story reveals, girls arenâ€™t the only victims of
â€˜Boys do get married young and that is an issue that needs to
be addressed,â€™ she explains. â€˜But the majority of child
marriages involve girls.
â€˜Also, boys tend to marry girls same age or younger while
girls marry much older men. Boys also arenâ€™t taken out of
education while girls run the risk of early childbirth and all the
complications that brings.â€™
While Alemtsahye was, at least, given a husband closer to
her own age, the wedding meant leaving home, leaving
school and beginning life as a traditional Ethiopian wife.
â€˜I was collecting water, wood and cooking for my husband
and the days were like that,â€™ she remembers.
â€˜The water was far away and not near to our house. We
would go far, then come back and I would cook for my
By the time she was 13, Alemtsahye, although still a child
herself, had a baby son, Tefsalen, now 25, to care for as well.
She remembers the pregnancy and birth as a traumatic time,
made worse by the fact that her immature body couldnâ€™t
cope with the physical demands of carrying a baby.
â€˜When I was pregnant, it was painful and I cried,â€™ she recalls.
â€˜And also when the baby was delivered it was so painful
because I was a child.â€™
But if pregnancy was difficult, motherhood was even
tougher and made worse by the fact that in 1989, Ethiopia
was in the throes of a vicious civil war.
â€˜After the baby was born, there was a very bad war, and my
husband, they took him, and he was 19 years old and he
was dead in the war,â€™ she says, her English slightly halting as
â€˜I was a widow at 13 and when [my husband] left me, he left
me with a one-year-old baby. It was very hard. Very difficult
for me left behind with a baby and still a baby myself.â€™
And although she hadnâ€™t wanted to marry her husband,
Alemtsahye says she still feels sad when she thinks of his
short life and how little enjoyment he had.
â€˜I feel sorry for him because he did not enjoy his life,â€™ she
says. â€˜He married young and finished in a war that ended his
life. When I see his son, I sometimes cry.â€™
Left alone with only her son, Alemtsahye was left vulnerable
and soon fell into the hands of traffickers, tempted by
promises of a better life abroad.
Leaving her son with her mother, she travelled to Egypt
where she worked as an unpaid domestic servant.
But just two months after arriving, more traffickers appeared
â€“ this time promising her a new life in the UK.
â€˜I was smuggled to London by Arab people,â€™ she explains.
â€˜They said: â€œyou are working with us and we will take you to
Londonâ€. They brought me and then they left me here.â€™
Still just 16-years-old, the former child bride was now an
asylum seeker, initially placed with a foster family because of
her youth but swiftly moved to a tiny flat of her own.
She went back to school and learned English and now helps
to run a charity called Girls Not Brides which aims to help
former child brides from Ethiopia.
Her son, now 25, lives in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa,
and grew up with his grandparents, only seeing his mother
during her occasional visits home.
â€˜It was so hard, very difficult,â€™ she says frankly. â€˜I was
thinking how to bring him to live with me [in London] but I
canâ€™t bring him now because heâ€™s in his 20s. I tried last year
and they said no.â€™
Did she ever worry that her parents might try to marry him
off at a young age as well? If they had, says Alemtsahye, she
would have found a way to stop the wedding.
â€˜I told him: â€œNever ever think to marry young! I wanted him
to get educated so I said to him: â€œlook at me, I am your
mother, look at everything that messed up my life!â€â€˜
â€˜He is a carpenter,â€™ she adds. â€˜I am very proud of him now!â€™
Although Alemtsahyeâ€™s story has a happy ending, sheâ€™s
aware that the problem of child marriage shows no signs of
going away and, if WHO estimates prove correct, could
become increasingly widespread over the next five years.
â€˜I would say to girls, donâ€™t marry. Enjoy your childhood and
go to school â€“ learn. For me, I feel my childhood was
robbed. I missed my education â€“ I ended up empty â€“ with
nothing! I learned everything in London.â€™
And for the parents of those girls, her message is stronger
still. â€˜Why do you damage his or her life?â€™ she asks.
â€˜Send them to school to study. Do you know the problems
that come with marrying off a child so young? They will
miss their childhood.â€™
Alemtsahye, Now 38 and living in London, she says she still
feels angry with her parents at times and says her life was
â€˜ruinedâ€™ by her early marriage.â€™My parents and his parents
decided [on the marriage],â€™ she adds. â€˜I didnâ€™t choose.â€™
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