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ETHIOPIA: Surviving forced marriage

ALEM GENA, 23 February 2007 (IRIN) – Standing at the front of her classroom, Mulu Melka reads out of her English book in a shy voice like any other 13-year-old schoolgirl; betraying nothing of the fact that twice within two years, she has been abducted and forced into marriage. A target of the traditional practice, known locally as “marriage by abduction”, Mulu managed to escape on both occasions. “The first time I was 11,” she recounts. “I was going to the mill, when a group of men grabbed me from behind. They took me by surprise. I fell on the ground, and when I woke up again I was in the house of my abductor. I stayed there three days.”

In the meantime, her parents held a meeting with the abductor’s parents, mediated by village elders. In exchange for a cow and two sheep, her parents agreed to her marriage with the abductor. But, Mulu ran away one night. “I escaped from the abductor’s house while he and his friends were drinking and dancing. I went to the toilet and then I escaped through a fence and ran away.”She then hid for nearly a year in the house of one of her uncles. “After nine months, I could not stand hiding anymore, so I decided to go back to school,” Mulu says nervously, looking at her hands.

Later, her parents received a letter from another suitor asking to marry Mulu, but she refused. The 39-year-old man turned up at the house and kidnapped her with her parents’ consent. “I managed to get my parents to agree for us to be tested for HIV. I had heard about it at school and on the radio. I was negative but my abductor was positive.”  With the test results in her hand, Mulu managed to convince her parents to cancel the wedding.

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