Ethiopia is witnessing a “dramatic” rise in child marriages as the Horn of Africa faces one of its worst droughts in decades, UNICEF has warned.
Parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are experiencing the driest conditions in more than 40 years, causing the mass displacement of millions of people and widespread hunger.
Catherine Russell, executive director of Unicef, said The Guardian that harsh conditions meant that Ethiopian girls had to marry at a younger age so that their parents could seek a higher dowry.
Parents also had the additional hope that their daughters would be cared for by wealthier families with better resources.
In East Hararghe, part of the Oromia region, local government data showed child marriage cases rose from 70 cases in a six-month period during 2020-21 to 106 in the same period a year later. Five other areas in Oromia have also seen significant increases in child marriage.
Russell said the rise in child marriages was “pretty dramatic” adding that more than 600,000 children are believed to have dropped out of school due to the drought.
She added that girls who are forced to leave their homes may be at greater risk of gender-based violence.
“This people [have their daughters married] because they are desperate for one reason or another: they are afraid of violence; they fear for the girls’ safety; they need resources; they can’t afford to feed them,” said Ms Russell The Guardian.
Russell, who visited drought-affected areas this week, said the charity has already started treating malnourished children who are forced to drink contaminated water.
It comes as UN aid chief Martin Griffiths warned last week that two million children were at risk of starvation and the organization only had a fraction of the $1.4 billion it needs to respond to the crisis. drought.
Addressing a closed-door donor conference in Geneva, he said: “The hard truth we need to recognize today is that we are in a race against time again to prevent large-scale loss of life in 2022, and we don’t have the resources to do it.
“We must act now without remorse. Lives are literally hanging by a thread.”
A fourth failed rainy season in the region is now a growing likelihood of creating what Griffiths said would constitute “one of the worst climate-induced emergencies in its history.”
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said heat waves, droughts and extreme rainfall would become more frequent in coming decades as temperatures continue to rise.