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Child Marriage

Bizuhaye Terefe Goes Back to School

530 300 The Hunger Project Australia

Originally published by The Hunger Project Nederland.

In the North Shoha region of Ethiopia, The Hunger Project is actively working with the Her Choice alliance to end of child marriages and enabling girls to re-enrol in school. Often, these are girls who have dropped out of school after a child marriage or teenage pregnancy. The Hunger Project empowers girls so that they can finish their education and transform their situations for themselves and their children.

Bizuhaye Terefe, 19 years old, lives in the village of Wujiba with her aunt and five-year-old son, Abity. She has been going back to school for two years now.

Bizuhaye is happy that she can go back to school after she had to leave when she was just 13 years old.

“When I was 13, I was raped and then I got pregnant. That was a very nasty experience. I’m still sad about that,” Bizuhaye says. “Because I was expecting, I had to quit school — that’s how it works here. I was living with my grandmother at the time because my mother had died a year earlier. After Abity was born, I lived with grandma for a while, but she could no longer care for us. Fortunately my aunt, Genzeb, then took us in.”

Image credit: Johannes Ode

The Hunger Project started the Her Choice program in the region two years ago. They empower and run activities for girls who left school too early to give them the chance to go back to school. Like Bizuhaye, these girls are usually married early or pregnant.

“I was visited by the school director, asking if Bizuhaye wanted to come back to school. Of course I wanted to help her, but I had no money for pens, notebooks, uniform and other school supplies. The Hunger Project then took care of that so Bizuhaye could go back to school!” says Genzeb.

Bizuhaye says, “I really enjoy going back to school. My favourite subject is English. My dream is to become a pilot later, that seems great. I can therefore earn a lot of money and help my family. If I later become a pilot and my future husband has a busy job, I want to plan the arrival of even more children. I certainly want to have four children, but I want to be ready for it. Abity can then become a big brother. It will take a while before the time comes. First I want to finish high school and study. And my son will also go to school from next year. “

Stella’s Story.

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We will never forget the look on Stella’s face when she described having no choice but to marry off her 14-year old grand-daughter, Emilida, to keep the other three children in her care alive. Stella’s eyes were heavy. The shame she felt was etched on her face. No choice. What would you do? Save three children or potentially lose four?

Stella’s daughter and son-in-law had died of HIV and Stella had taken on the care of their children. Suddenly, she had four children she couldn’t afford to raise.

Stella’s grand-daughter, Emilida, was married off at 14 to a man twice her age. One day, while Emilida was at the markets, she was approached by two Women’s Empowerment Animators (local volunteer leaders) trained by The Hunger Project. The Animators asked Emilida why she wasn’t at school and why she was so dirty. After confiding in them about her marriage, the Animators and Emilida returned to her Grandmother’s house and spoke to her about the negative impact of child marriage and the importance of education. The group decided that it was time to take action.

They went to the village chief and had Emilida’s marriage annulled.

The Women’s Empowerment Animators empowered Stella with the knowledge and resources she needed to transform her family’s life. Now, Stella farms maize and sells firewood to earn an income. She re-enrolled Emilida in school and is an advocate for girls education.  Stella has also become a Women’s Empowerment Animator, so that she can empower other women and girls in her community.

Emilida’s vision is to one day become a teacher so that, she too can empower others through education.

This is not a story of despair. This is a story of hope, courage, transformation and possibility for the future. Leadership is not about having influence or power. Leadership is having a clear vision and having the determination, courage and passion to achieve it.

Find out more about our Leadership Immersion Programs.

Meet Razia: Protesting Child Marriage

530 300 The Hunger Project Australia

In Bangladesh, boys are typically valued more than girls. Girls are often pulled out of school at a young age to be married off. They aren’t able to earn an income for themselves or have a say in family decisions. They are made to look after their siblings and families, do the household chores and other manual labour instead.  

After being forced to marry at 15 years old (three years before the legal age of 18), Razia was denied an education and was forced to stay at home and provide for her new husband and start a family. No one protested her marriage. Like other girls her age who were being married, Razia soon gave birth to a boy and a girl.   

“I thought child marriage was my fate,” she says. 

She couldn’t see a way to break out of the cycle of poverty and stop own daughter from becoming a victim of child marriage just like she had been. 

The Hunger Project runs programs such as Women’s Leadership Workshops in rural communities in Bangladesh. These workshops empower women with knowledge and skills they can use to develop their own businesses to transform their situation, lift their families out of poverty, and enable other women in their village to do the same

After receiving training from The Hunger Project, Razia began a new enterprise from home — sewing — which has brought in an income. She also started a women’s self-help group to help other women save money to reinvest in their family on important things like education.  

Razia now works from home earning her own income. As she earned more income, her confidence grew. She looked to use her newfound influence to shift the perspective on local issues close to her heart, and now protests against child marriage in her village.  

I’ve learned how to raise poultry and livestock, and sew. Because of this, I now have enough savings to easily support the health and education of my children. I’ve also been able to send my own daughter to The Hunger Project’s Youth Leadership Training. Now she collaborates with other young people around here to create a harmonious society free from child marriage.  

In addition, I’ve set up my own compost plant to produce organic fertiliser for my home garden. I’ve now encouraged 20 other women in my neighbourhood to set up their own organic compost plants too.” 

The women’s group have written a list of children who have dropped out of school in the village. They are working to support them to return to studying.   

“Now, I work to protest against child marriage and make people aware of its consequences,” Razia says.  

Ending child marriage in Bangladesh

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The Hunger Project Bangladesh recently led a community-wide event to raise awareness of the harmful effects of child marriage and to highlight The Hunger Project’s commitment to empowering women and girls.

Around the world, 39,000 girls get married every day. This is a challenge in low-income countries like Bangladesh where one in three girls are married before the age of 18.

Participants of the community event presented information about child marriage, expressing their opinions and their priorities – opening up a dialogue about a long-held community issue. The session successfully ended with a joint pledge to reduce child marriage from 81 percent to less than 30 percent in their community.

The event, which took place as part of The Hunger Project’s involvement in the Her Choice Alliance, saw volunteers and staff members share new data about child marriage in communities across Bangladesh. Her Choice is an alliance of organisations that are working to halt child marriage in 11 countries, with the long-term goal of creating communities in which girls and young women are free to decide if, when and whom to marry.

At The Hunger Project, we believe in measuring what matters. Our philosophy of monitoring and evaluating our community-level programs is centered on the understanding that empowering individuals and communities with knowledge, information and opportunities is essential for achieving sustainable self-reliance and ending hunger.

All of our programs are monitored through a participatory monitoring process. This means that we start with grassroots, community-led engagement to close the feedback loop between our projects’ performance and community expectations and goals. Objectivity is key, so we embed transparency and accountability for data throughout all of our monitoring and evaluation processes.

Malawi to end child marriages

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The country with one of the highest rates of child marriages has taken a major step to end the practice by adopting a constitutional amendment that raises the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years-old. 

In a major win for young girls all across the continent, on 14 February the Malawi Parliament took a landmark decision towards advancing gender equality by banning child marriage in the country. Unanimously the Parliament of Malawi adopted a constitutional amendment that raises the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 18 years, for both girls and boys. The amendment aligns the Constitution with the 2015 Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act enacted by the Parliament.

Each year around 15 million girls will be married before they turn 18. The Hunger Project and 0ur partners have been a strong advocate for an end to child marriage

According to the UN, half of the girls in Malawi are often married before the age of 18 and teen pregnancies contributing to 20-30 per cent of maternal deaths in the country. The practice of child marriage locks girls into a cycle of poverty, with many forced to leave education after they marry, rendering girls more vulnerable to violence.

The new reform aligns the Constitution with Malawi’s international and regional obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and others, including the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality.

Your investment can help bring an end to child marriage. Donate today. 




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Recently, 14-year-old Afrina travelled across India by train with 49 other visionary young women on an exciting peer-to-peer learning adventure. The moment these girls boarded the train they broke down the isolation of the walls of their homes and expanded their horizons. As they travelled across the country, they explored the barriers faced by women and girls and learned how to overcome them.

The trip was part of The Hunger Project’s new Adolescent Girls Program. During this three-year pioneering training program, girls are educated on their rights, health, nutrition and the importance of education. They are also unleashed psychologically and emotionally to believe in their own power to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.

“Everyone in my village was against me travelling alone. They told me that if boys do not travel such distances, how can a girl? I want to tell everyone that girls can live freely and have equal respect to men. Before this trip I was afraid, but being the first person from my family to travel to a city, I now know I can do something for myself and for others.” – Afrina

On their journey, Afrina and the other girls met strong women who are already tearing down gender barriers and transforming their communities. They discussed issues such as child marriage, their vision for a better and equal future for all, and how to achieve economic and social empowerment. They learned how to become champions for change in their villages.

When she returned home, Afrina was determined to make a difference. When she learned that her young cousin was going to be married, she knew she had to act.

“When I discovered that my underage cousin was getting married, I went to her house to confront my uncle. I told him that she should not get married. He was surprised. I proceeded to explain to him that child marriage is bad, and that girls should get married after they are 18 years old. He scolded me and asked me to go home.”

“Later in the day, I came back with a group of friends to persuade him not to marry my cousin off. We all protested and explained to him why she should not get married before 18. We are only children. I never would have had the courage to stand up to my uncle had it not been for this experience,” says Afrina.

Thanks to the training she has received from The Hunger Project, Afrina succeeded in stopping her cousin’s marriage and she knows that anything is possible. She can follow her dreams and make an impact for girls everywhere.