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International News

Abduction and Rape of Young Girls for Marriage Common in Rural Ethiopia, Victims and Aid Workers Say

September 29, 2004

UNICEF estimates that more than 70 percent of marriages in Ethiopia are initiated through the abduction of young girls, and male dominance and stigma against the victims often allow the perpetrators to go unpunished. While such abductions in African countries are typically committed during war, they have long been a marriage custom in Ethiopia.

Residents in Arsi say men frequently see the kidnappings as a bargain, since virgin girls can command a $400 dowry. Abducted and raped, a girl can then be obtained for $50 and a horse, since families assume no one but the abductor -- often 10-15 years older -- will marry her.

For Chaltu Jeylu, kidnapped at age 13 and raped by her suitor until she became pregnant, the trauma of assault is magnified by the fear of contracting HIV. Such victims "may well be infected," said Rahel Worku, a nurse at a government health center that helps girls. "It is a very high risk, but we have no testing facilities, so we do not know," she said.

Chaltu, now 14, ultimately fled her husband, but in doing so was ostracized by her village and most of her family. Her husband is free and faces no charges; his friends have threatened to break Chaltu's arm if she pursues a case against him. Chaltu's father said she brings shame upon the family. Her mother alone supports Chaltu's escape. Village elders forced Chaltu's family to return the dowry and relinquish the couple's baby boy. "They say I broke the tradition of the community because I did not stay with him," said Chaltu.

Marriage via child abduction "is not seen as serious here, it is part of the culture," said Ellen Alem, acting director of the Ethiopian Women's Lawyers Association.

Back to other news for September 29, 2004

Adapted from:
Associated Press
09.24.04; Anthony Mitchell

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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