At the community meetings organized by Berhane Hewan, communities “devised their own, home-grown approaches to fighting child marriage,” says Annabel Erulkar.

By Maanvi Singh (NPR) |

Many girls get married before age 18 in the northern, Amhara region of Ethiopia. The legal age of marriage is 18 — but the law is seldom enforced.

“My family received a request for my marriage when I was in grade 6,” says one young woman from the area, who asked not to be named to protect her privacy. “All my elder sisters were married when they were children. It was common in the kebele [neighborhood].”

The youngest in her family, she is now 23, a university graduate and still unmarried.

And the reason has a lot to do with … a chicken.

“See, one misperception is that child marriage is an intractable practice,” says Annabel Erulkar, a social scientist at the Population Council who helped launch a program called Berhane Hewan in Ethiopia about 14 years ago. “My experience is that communities are quite open to change,” she says — especially when they are presented with better alternatives.

And Berhane Hewan presented a lot of alternatives. The first step was setting up regular community meetings where locals could discuss child marriage and why it is so widely practiced in the area — and what it would take for families to stop it.

Many families were pulling their daughters out of school because they couldn’t afford school fees. So Berhane Hewan gave school supplies to participating girls between the ages of 10 and 19 and also matched them up with older female mentors.

Families who kept their girls unmarried and in school for two years were rewarded with a goat, sheep or a pair of chickens.

The multi-faceted approach seemed to work. In a 2009 study, Erulkar tested out the program with more than 450 girls from the village of Mosebo. She found that girls age 10-to-14 who participated in the two-year program were 90 percent less likely to be married than girls in a nearby community who didn’t participate.

Continue reading this story at Goats and Soda: NPR
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