Despite the Ethiopian government’s efforts to eradicate bridal abduction, it’s still frequently practiced in some rural areas. Bridal abduction has been illegal since 2005, but outside of the capital, the law is interpreted very loosely by the police and judges. Hence, girls as young as 11 years old are abducted and are given in marriage to men much older than them.
According to a study by UNICEF, marriage by abduction has many adverse effects on the girls and their communities, including perpetuating poverty, violating the human rights of the girls, causing permanent damage to their developing bodies, encouraging the transmission of HIV, and forcing girls to drop out of school.
Mulu, a 25-year-old mother of one, was abducted by her husband as she was going to visit her parents in the rural village. He had just lost his first wife and his child, and he decided to marry again.
Once Mulu was abducted, her family had no choice but to agree to the marriage, thinking that it would be a disgrace for the family if they didn’t. The majority of the girls are raped when they are abducted. Once the girl is abducted, the parents of the man send elders to the girl’s parents to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage.
Many of the parents agree to the marriage because they fear that their daughter won’t be able find a husband after the incident is heard in the community, and that the abductor won’t return their daughter if they refuse him.
Cursing her luck, Mulu complied with the wishes of her parents to stay with her abductor and she started life as his wife. As is the custom, she asked no questions about her husband’s past life and accepted only the bits of information he provided.
“Even though it took me a long time to accept my fate, I tried to make the best out of the situation I was in. I started working as a daily laborer and took care of the house to the best of my ability. I just wanted to make my parents proud of me.”
Shortly after they started living as husband and wife, Mulu started to notice her husband’s unstable mental condition, deteriorating health and uncontrollable addiction to alcohol and chat — an herb with a narcotic effect. She became the sole provider of the household as her husband’s condition worsened.
While she was struggling to support her husband, she was also expecting her first-born. As with most of the women in her village, she was unaware of antenatal care or the importance of health checkup.s Mulu gave birth to a baby boy at home assisted by her neighbors. The baby passed away within a week.
“My whole world went dark with the death of my baby. Some said he had pneumonia and some said it was an evil spirit. I never knew the exact reason because I wasn’t able to take him to the health center.”
Soon after the death of her baby, Mulu became pregnant again. Even though the unanswered question of why she lost her first-born lingered at the back of her mind, she hoped for the best.
This time, not wanting to take a chance, she went to deliver her baby at the hospital. She was happy to return home with her baby girl.
“I counted the days, and when she became 1 week old I celebrated. Then the second week passed and I was sure everything would be OK. But the third week she started to get ill, and I lost my baby when she was 1 month old.”
Heartbroken with the loss of her children, Mulu decided to never try to have children again. She went back to her old life — working hard to support her sick husband.
“The day I knew I was pregnant again, I wanted to end my life. I didn’t want to go through another pain of burying my baby. I cursed my husband and most of all my fate.”
Even though she wanted to terminate the pregnancy, the little hope she felt inside wouldn’t let her do it.
One morning as Mulu was having coffee with her neighbors, she heard them talk about an organization that was registering babies and their mothers. What one of the ladies said caught her attention: They were registering pregnant mothers.
Mulu went to the church compound. Soon after that, she joined Compassion’s Child Survival Program. She was six months pregnant.
“I was startled to hear Mulu’s story while I was taking her history. I immediately arranged for her to go to the health center the next day and start her antenatal care. I also wanted her to get a full medical checkup because I wanted to find out why she lost her two babies.
“The next day I met her, I tried to assess what she knew about HIV/AIDS and counseled her before we went to the health center. The result was as I suspected. Mulu was found to be HIV-positive,” says Zenebech, the Child Survival Program Coordinator at the center.
For a woman who didn’t know much about the virus, the result came as a shock.
“What I heard drained the little hope I had. I couldn’t understand why my life was in such disarray.
“I hung on to every single word Zene was saying about how I can get through this. But when she told me that I can give birth to a healthy baby, I jumped up with joy. All my grief disappeared on that moment.”
Mulu was immediately started on antiretroviral therapy, and frequent antenatal care at the hospital was arranged for her. Both the physical and emotional support she received through the Child Survival Program gave her a sense of security.
Three months after she joined the program, Mulu gave birth at the hospital assisted by medical doctors who took the necessary precautions to prevent the transmission of the virus to the infant.
“I cried tears of joy when they handed me my baby girl. She tested negative for the virus, and I praised God for His gift. Had it not been for the care of the program staff, my baby would have been dead like the first two.”
The program’s intervention for Mulu didn’t stop at saving her baby’s life, but also gave her a fresh beginning filled with hope. The training she received through the program on health, hygiene and parenting has helped her change her lifestyle and care for her baby in a better way.
She was also soon given an opportunity to get involved in an income-generating activity. She was given some money, which she used to buy a bed, mattress, kitchen utensils, and to start a business.
She attended intensive training on starting a small business. She chose to sell corn and has been making a good profit. During the rainy season, she buys corn for about $3 and makes a $3 profit at the end of the day. From the $3, she saves 25 cents and uses the rest for her family.
During the dry season, she sells sweet potatoes and makes about $2.50 per day.
“More than the support I get, I value the Bible lessons and the fellowship I have at the center. My old confidence has come back and I am very content with the life I am leading now. Even though my husband still bothers me and is unhealthy, I have put my hope on the Lord, who has sustained me so far.
“The joy I feel when I see my girl is indescribable. I have stopped complaining about the turn of events in my life and have started appreciating the little blessings that come my way each day.
“The Child Survival Program has played the greatest of roles in my life. I am here today because of it and my baby is alive because of it. I have so much hope for the future and I rest assured that the program is there for me as well as my baby no matter what.”