Is it really because she was not well-circumcised that she failed to submit to her would-be husband, only at the age of eight?

The woman featured in this story is 26 years old and a mother of five (three daughters and two sons). This fact itself, a mother of 5 at 26, begs the question - is she a young woman or an old lady? Her real name is Abeba Azene. Is her name merely a coincidence or a prophecy of her future fate? Abeba in Amharic means a blossom or a beautiful flower. But when it's read along with her father’s name, Azene, it unequivocally evokes a feeling of sadness, for the very meaning of her father’s name, Azene, literally means “to become sad”. Simply put, her full name reads as “a beautiful flower gets sad”. However, in spite of all that she had to shoulder at such a young age, the gentle look on her face is a witness that her blossoms, her good looks, have not yet faded away. What an amazing riddle? I found Abeba near her thatched roof, in Amarit Kebele of Mecha Woreda (FH West Gojam) making the local spirit called “areqe/አረቄ”. She was surrounded by her four loving children, while breastfeeding her youngest son, him sitting confidently on his mother’s knee - but his watchful eyes gazing at me in warily given that I was a stranger to his house.  

She was first given into marriage at the tender age of six. She can only recall small bits of the marriage ceremony; if we can even call it marriage in the real sense. She remembers “When I refused to ascend on the horse, they bribed me with candy in order to easily persuade me”. It was through her uncle that they cajoled her to go to her would-be husband. But she returned back with her uncle. Three days after the wedding ceremony, it is customary for the bridegroom’s family to prepare a return invitation (ምልልስ).  "Again they brought me back to my husband’s house by force." But she rebelled and refused to stay there. Taking a bold action for such a young girl, she escaped from her in-laws’ house and sheltered herself in nearby villages, sometimes even in the bush. In this way, she divorced her first “husband”.  

Yet, her parents gave her into marriage again at the age of eight – now for the second time. Her would-be husband at this time was much older than her. At this point the community expects her to start leading the real married life and sleep with her husband. When he came home from the farm, she used to run away and spend the whole night in the forest weeping; for he continuously beat and forced her to have sexual intercourse with him. But she failed to submit, in Amharic “መልመድ አልቻለችም”. Surprisingly enough, her in-laws thought that the reason might be that she was not properly circumcised, because in stark opposition to the custom she was not “calm” and failed to wholeheartedly submit to her husband. For this reason they informed her father to circumcise her again. Her father, without making any effort to understand her situation, used to beat her the whole day for failing to get accustomed with her husband. She recalls again “I used to spend the whole night in the forest because I was very much frightened of my father.” Sadly enough, shortly after she celebrated her ninth birthday, her husband had sexual intercourse with her – it was a terrible moment she will never, ever forget – she lost complete consciousness. “It was only my mother-in-law who wept and showed me compassion” she says. She got divorced for the second time. Her father bitterly rebuked for her “rudeness”.

It was from her third marriage that she bore all her five children. She now regrets her ignorance for failing to use any of the contraceptive methods thus depriving her of the opportunity for education. "I am envious of some of my childhood friends - who are now able to realize their childhood dreams and become doctors, engineers and teachers. Given my youth, no one believes that all these five kids are my own children – because I bore them within a very short interval. I don’t want my fate to repeat itself with my children, especially my daughters. I really would like to fulfill my lost dream through my daughters. That’s why I am sacrificing myself, sending them to school and providing them with whatever I can in order for them to become as successful as one of my childhood friends." Now she is one of the beneficiaries for FH’s Economic Incentives scheme and one of her daughters receives basic school materials. The rationale for Finote Hiwot’s Economic Incentives scheme is towards improving the livelihood of beneficiary households, based on the hypothesis that they would opt out of marrying off their children out of financial desperation and continue supporting their daughters to properly attend school (even after the Programme phases out from the woreda and stops supporting the girls with school materials). After she was trained on basic business skill, Abeba received a loan of 3000ETB. With this money she bought an ox for expanding her farming and added two sheep for breeding. This year she cultivated her plot of land and produced wheat with the current estimated market price amounting to 6000ETB.  The sheep  have borne two lambs and now she has a total of four sheep. She is now fully confident that she will continue supporting not only her daughter but also all the other four children to succeed in their education.

Fiker Addis Tesfa is the second daughter to Abebea. She is 10 years old and a 5th grader at Silasil Primary School (one of Finote Hiwot’s selected woreda for Economic Incentives pilot programme). She bears testimony of how Finote Hiwot’s Economic Incentive support has brought positive impact in her life, especially in terms of improving her school performance. Though they were willing to send her to school, her parents were previously unable to fulfill her basic needs, especially in terms of basic school materials. She now receives basic school materials (school bag, exercise book, pen, pencil, sanitary pad, underwear and soap) twice a year from Finote Hiwot. She notes: My mother told me of her experience; how she went through tough situations at an infant age because of child marriage. Since my childhood she has always advised me not to repeat her story and that’s why I take her advice seriously and attentively attend school. My vision is to successfully finish my education and become a teacher and now I am striving towards realizing my vision.