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Monday, December 13, 2004
(abstracted from Tribune Report by: Paul Salopek
Tribune Foreign Correspondent)

In the heart of Ethiopia, child marriage
takes a brutal toll

Tihun Nebiyu the goat herder doesn't want to marry.
She is adamant about this. But in her village nobody
heeds the opinions of headstrong little girls.

That's why she's kneeling in the filigreed shade
of her favorite thorn tree, dropping beetles down her dress.
Magic Beetles.

"When they bite you here --" Tihun explains gravely,
pressing the scrabbling insects into the chest through the
fabric of her tattered smock---
"it makes your breast grow".

This is Tahun's own wishful brand of sorcery-- a child's
desperate measure to turn herself into an adult. Then maybe,
jut may be, her family would respect her wishes not to wed.
She cud rebuff the strange man her papa has chosen to be her
husband. And she would'nt have to bear his dumb babies.

Tihun kneels in the dirt, eyes closed: an elfin figure whose smile
made goofly endearing by two missing front teeth. She holds her small
hands over her nipples. She is waiting for the bugs enchantment to start.
Seconds pass. But nothing happens. The beetles have escaped--
by crawling up her neck.

"It doesn't work"! Tihun says, disgusted. She heaves an
exaggerated sigh and squints out across the yellow grass hills
surrounding her world:
"I will just have to run!".


There are according to child rights activists, an estimated 50 million
Tihuns scattered across the world: young teen or even preteen girls
whose innocence is being sacrificed to arranged marriages, often with
older men.

Coerced by family and culture into lives of servility and isolation,
and scarred by the trauma of too early pregnancy, child brides
represent a vast, lost generation of children.

While humanitarian campaigns have focused global attention on childhood
AIDS in Africa, female genital mutilation and child labor, one of the
underlying sources of all these woes remains largely ignored. Child
marriages, an ancient, entrenched practice long hidden in shadow, was
only denounced by the United Nations as a serious human rights
violation in 2001.

But child marriage ruins lives in other ways too. Often treated like
indentured servants, young brides are subject to beatings by
their grown husbands and in laws. And thousnads of girls end up
trapped in the sex trade, whether through organized child bride
trafficking rings in countries such as China or in Africa, by
simply drifting from abusive marriages into street prostitution,
social workers say.

The most far-reaching injustice of child marriage by far, however,
is probably its most subtle: It pries millions of young girls
out of school. Confined to their husbands homes and cheated of
the benefits of education,legions of demoralized children
worldwide are condemned to live in ignorance and dire poverty from
which they rarely escape, and which they endure with numbed desperaion.

According to the UNFPA, at least 49 countries in the world, roughly
a quarter of all nations, face a significant child bride problem--
that is, at least 15 percent of their girls marry younger than
age 18, the widely recognized threshold of adulthood.

Not surprisingly, the epicenters of child wedlock are sub-Saharan Africa
and South Asia, where cementing clan ties through marriage, a
preoccupation with bridal virginity and fear of contracting AIDS are

ETHIOPIA is one of such hot spot. Its government,
pressured by aid organizations, has started prohibiting early marriages.
Yet the tradition is hard to stamp out.

Among Ethiopia's rural Amhara people-- a culture of warrior farmers
in which a staggering 82 percent o all brides are underage--
the drumming and tribal dancing that enliven child weddings can
still be heard echoeing through the mountain nights. Only it is
a bit muffled these days:The grooms and tiny, bewildered brides--
cocooned in white cloth-- simply have moved their nuptials indoors.


Tihun's world is gorgeous and cruel. It is the golden month of May.
With its straw colored hills, toga draped sheperds and loaf like
volcanic buttes jutting 7,000 feet, the remote homeland of some
16 million Amharas looks like a landscape straight out of
J.R.R. Tolkien's fable, "The Hobbit" the ethereal Africa of Dreams.

But conversations with the shy children in the region reveal little
girl in sight-- whether carrying a bundle of firewood or racing across
lumpy fields-- is already spoken for The 11 year old buying sweets
at a village market is somebody's wife. Two girls playing an
elaborate Ethiopian version of hopscotch in the dust are soon to be
brides. And a scrawny 5th grader skipping home from school is already
divorced. Divorce, though frowned upon, can occur when families feud.

Amharaland has the highest child marriage rates in the world, according
to UN and Ethiopian statistics; in some dusty corners of the ancient
highlands, almost 90 percent of the local girls are married before age 15.

The forces behind this starling demographic are at work in all child
bride cultures--just taken to extremes in the heart of Ethiopia.

The Amhara's demands for bridal virginity, meanwhile,
can be fanatical.Anxious parents push their daughters into wedlock
years before puberty because they fear the onset of menstruation
maybe mistaken for the taboo of premarital sex.

And the powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church has long played a role
in early matchmaking. Church teachings traditionally encouraged
marriage before age 15, declaring that this was the age of the
Virgin Mary at the Immaculate Conception of Christ.

To save on expenses, Tihun's father has shrewdly arranged to
marry off four of his children on the same day. Tihun and her more
worldly big sister Dinke, 10 ,will be carted away on horses by
strangers who are their husbands. And two teenage sons will
bringing home 10 year old brides.

For Tihun, Melese has scored a minor coup: a deacon in the
Orthodox Church.

"He has a good lemon orchard", Tihun's father says approvingly.

It never occurs to the stern old man to consult his youngest
daughter on these decisions. Unless issuing orders, he never
speaks to her at all.

This isn't coldheartedness. It is a form of emotional self-
preservation on the harsher edges of the world -- a place
where one out of five children die before reaching the age of 5.

posted by infraternam meam @ 3:24 AM  
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About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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