“I do this so that other girls don’t have to go through what I went through. I want them to know it’s not unlucky to be a girl in Ethiopia.” – Melka from Libo Kemkem, Ethiopia on standing up against forced marriage in the 10×10 multimedia clip, Standing Up to Early Marriage: Melka.
Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa. The country has a diverse population of over 84 million, with more than 80 ethnic groups and approximately 90 languages spoken within its borders. Almost 40 percent of Ethiopians live under the national poverty line and a considerable proportion (80 percent) live in rural communities.
It is here, in this context, where Melka has committed herself to ensuring that young girls in her community do not have to experience what happened to her.
“I was 14,” Melka recounts through a translator. “I had just come home from school, and there were so many people at my house. Everyone was dressed up, and I asked my mother what was going on. But no one would tell me. More and more people just kept coming, and then my mother brought me a dress and said, Here put this on. You’re getting married.”
As a young girl, Melka’s parents forced her to marry a much older man against her will. For fighting back, for neglecting to consummate the union following the wedding, she was beaten, disowned by her parents, and ostracized by members of her community.
However, Melka’s story does not stop here.
Today, she is a human rights advocate who works to protect girls’ rights, specifically to end the practice of child marriage. She empowers girls (and their family members) with information about the legal age limit to marry in Ethiopia (18 years) and about the harmful consequences of early marriage for young girls. She champions girls’ education and their health needs.
Melka aims to ensure that all girls in her village receive the quality education they deserve and an opportunity to achieve their dreams.
“In my village, girls have to work hard. We don’t have that much, but we still dream of becoming doctors and teachers,” she explains. “Here at the school, I teach girls about their rights. I do this so that other girls don’t have to go through what I went through. I want them to know it’s not unlucky to be a girl in Ethiopia.”
In Ethiopia, nearly a quarter (23.9 percent) of women 20-24 were married by age 15, according to the Population Council. This percentage ranks Ethiopia fourth among countries worldwide with available data. The percentage of women who marry by age 18—the legal age to marry in Ethiopia—is even greater at 49 percent; a figure that ranks Ethiopia ninth in the world.
Learn more about Melka’s journey—from a victim of child marriage to a human rights advocate and community activist. Set aside 4 minutes to watch the 10×10 clip, and then share Melka’s story with others.
To learn more about 10×10 please visit their website. 10×10 is a feature film and social action campaign created by a group of former ABC News journalists, in association with the Documentary Group and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions.