Must Read: Married At 10, Pregnant At 13 & Widowed By 14- Child Bride Tells Her Story

By 09:06 Sat, 25 Jan 2014 Comments

Alemtsahye Gebrekidan was 10 when her childhood came to

an abrupt end. ‘I was playing outside and my mum called

me inside to the house,’ she remembers of the day her

world changed forever.

‘She said “you’re going to marry”. I was surprised and I cried

but I didn’t say anything to them [her parents].’ Her wedding,

to a boy of 16, took place just two months later.

Shocking though it might seem, her experience is by no

means unique. According to World Health Organisation

figures, 14.2 million girls under the age of 15 are forced into

marriage each year.

‘I was in school,’ she remembers, ‘although I stopped the

school when I was married. I do have happy memories of

childhood – it was just eat and play.’

All that ended when it was decided she would marry a boy,

who until the day of their wedding, she had never met.

‘I didn’t know him,’ she says. ‘I was OK when I saw him – he

was a child like me. He was upset as well, the same like me…

he was 16 years old.’

Read the rest of her sad story after the cut

As Alemtsahye’s story reveals, girls aren’t the only victims of

forced marriages,

‘Boys do get married young and that is an issue that needs to

be addressed,’ she explains. ‘But the majority of child

marriages involve girls.

‘Also, boys tend to marry girls same age or younger while

girls marry much older men. Boys also aren’t taken out of

education while girls run the risk of early childbirth and all the

complications that brings.’

While Alemtsahye was, at least, given a husband closer to

her own age, the wedding meant leaving home, leaving

school and beginning life as a traditional Ethiopian wife.

‘I was collecting water, wood and cooking for my husband

and the days were like that,’ she remembers.

‘The water was far away and not near to our house. We

would go far, then come back and I would cook for my


By the time she was 13, Alemtsahye, although still a child

herself, had a baby son, Tefsalen, now 25, to care for as well.

She remembers the pregnancy and birth as a traumatic time,

made worse by the fact that her immature body couldn’t

cope with the physical demands of carrying a baby.

‘When I was pregnant, it was painful and I cried,’ she recalls.

‘And also when the baby was delivered it was so painful

because I was a child.’

But if pregnancy was difficult, motherhood was even

tougher and made worse by the fact that in 1989, Ethiopia

was in the throes of a vicious civil war.

‘After the baby was born, there was a very bad war, and my

husband, they took him, and he was 19 years old and he

was dead in the war,’ she says, her English slightly halting as

she remembers.

‘I was a widow at 13 and when [my husband] left me, he left

me with a one-year-old baby. It was very hard. Very difficult

for me left behind with a baby and still a baby myself.’

And although she hadn’t wanted to marry her husband,

Alemtsahye says she still feels sad when she thinks of his

short life and how little enjoyment he had.

‘I feel sorry for him because he did not enjoy his life,’ she

says. ‘He married young and finished in a war that ended his

life. When I see his son, I sometimes cry.’

Left alone with only her son, Alemtsahye was left vulnerable

and soon fell into the hands of traffickers, tempted by

promises of a better life abroad.

Leaving her son with her mother, she travelled to Egypt

where she worked as an unpaid domestic servant.

But just two months after arriving, more traffickers appeared

– this time promising her a new life in the UK.

‘I was smuggled to London by Arab people,’ she explains.

‘They said: “you are working with us and we will take you to

London”. They brought me and then they left me here.’

Still just 16-years-old, the former child bride was now an

asylum seeker, initially placed with a foster family because of

her youth but swiftly moved to a tiny flat of her own.

She went back to school and learned English and now helps

to run a charity called Girls Not Brides which aims to help

former child brides from Ethiopia.

Her son, now 25, lives in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa,

and grew up with his grandparents, only seeing his mother

during her occasional visits home.

‘It was so hard, very difficult,’ she says frankly. ‘I was

thinking how to bring him to live with me [in London] but I

can’t bring him now because he’s in his 20s. I tried last year

and they said no.’

Did she ever worry that her parents might try to marry him

off at a young age as well? If they had, says Alemtsahye, she

would have found a way to stop the wedding.

‘I told him: “Never ever think to marry young! I wanted him

to get educated so I said to him: “look at me, I am your

mother, look at everything that messed up my life!”‘

‘He is a carpenter,’ she adds. ‘I am very proud of him now!’

Although Alemtsahye’s story has a happy ending, she’s

aware that the problem of child marriage shows no signs of

going away and, if WHO estimates prove correct, could

become increasingly widespread over the next five years.

‘I would say to girls, don’t marry. Enjoy your childhood and

go to school – learn. For me, I feel my childhood was

robbed. I missed my education – I ended up empty – with

nothing! I learned everything in London.’

And for the parents of those girls, her message is stronger

still. ‘Why do you damage his or her life?’ she asks.

‘Send them to school to study. Do you know the problems

that come with marrying off a child so young? They will

miss their childhood.’

Alemtsahye, Now 38 and living in London, she says she still

feels angry with her parents at times and says her life was

‘ruined’ by her early marriage.’My parents and his parents

decided [on the marriage],’ she adds. ‘I didn’t choose.’



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