Child marriage and female circumcision are linked practices that are prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa and common traditions in Ethiopia. Commitment to end them has been expressed by the African Union and Ethiopia has taken a strong stand through legislation, campaigns and concerted action by government, international organisations and civil society.
There is recent evidence of significant decrease of both practices, enabling us to draw lessons from Ethiopia as a success case. Changes have come about through clear policies and commitment from government institutions alongside broader modernisation changes related to increased access to health care, education and employment opportunities for girls. However, both practices remain common in parts of Ethiopia and there is some resistance to abandoning them when and where people are not convinced of their harm or fear consequences. In the absence of safe reproductive health services for adolescents and adequate opportunities for girls through education, training, employment and social protection, child marriage may still be considered an acceptable option by some parents and by girls themselves.
Relying on banning the practices may force them underground or have unintended negative consequences. Ending these practices within a generation requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders including government departments and services, civil society organisations, schools and the media. The key to success remains Involving communities, starting with the girls themselves, their parents, brothers and future husbands, as well as customary and religious leaders.