Birtukan Dessie grew up in Meket woreda (district), North Wollo zone, Amhara region in Ethiopia. When Birtukan was 16 years old, she failed the 9th grade which immediately triggered her family’s decision to find her a husband. For her family, continuing school was out of the question. In the region, it is believed to be a failure if a girl is in her mid or late teens and unmarried. Attending school is often the only defense for girls like Birtukan who have little desire to get married young. If education seems out of reach, many either succumb to the societal pressure of marriage or they move to other areas for employment.
Birtukan and her father went to a local health clinic for an age examination, which is now required by law prior to marriage in order to reduce the number of early marriages. After testing, the clinic concluded that Birtukan was legally too young for marriage. Her father was outraged, “I don’t understand why the authorities interfere in our family affairs. She failed her grade. She is willing to get married, so why don’t they let her?” However, her father’s real intent was to find someone to farm his land as he is too weak and sick to do it himself. He has a son who is going to university but he knows he will never come back to the village to become a farmer. Hence, he believes that his only option is to get Birtukan married and make her husband take over the farming responsibilities. Birtukan said, “If I had a choice, I would rather repeat the 9th grade than get married.” In Ethiopia, 2 in every 5 girls are married before their 18th birthday, and nearly 1 in 5 marries before age 15. JFA-PFE, with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has been working diligently to reduce the prevalence of child marriage in Ethiopia and increase communication between communities and law enforcement agencies. Currently, JFA-PFE has projects underway in 8 woredas in Amhara Region and 2 woredas in Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR). JFA-PFE supports children and young people, parents, communities and the government to identify and understand causes and effects of child marriage. So far, JFA-PFE has held market and school campaigns, community forums, justice sector forums, women forums and girls club empowerment sessions for over 94, 000 people. These awareness raising campaigns shed new light and mark marvelous results as they awakened responsible government offices and increased their commitment and dedication. Ultimately, JFA-PFE has seen the government now cancel arranged marriages, prosecute offenders of early marriage and reduce school dropout rate.