As the African drums beat faster and the dancers work themselves into a frenzy it is obvious Wube-Enat has no idea of the implications and repercussions associated with this, her special day. It is her wedding. She is ten years old. Although child marriages are illegal in Ethiopia traditions die hard in the remote northern region of Amhara. We were given unprecedented access to a story that is commonplace across some parts of Africa but is usually kept firmly behind closed doors. We met Simegne who is 12-years-old and 8-months pregnant. She said she would rather be at school than preparing for motherhood. Over half of the girls in Amhara are married before they are 15. The vast majority of them will have sex before they have even reached puberty and many will get pregnant as soon as it is physically possible.
The problem is their bodies are not fully formed making it highly unlikely they will have a trouble-free labour. Hardly any of these girls will have access to a trained health worker and will have the baby at home. Another girl, Achawache, said she was 15 when she spent 12 days in labour. Eventually the baby was born dead and she was left with a fistula. The term simply means ‘hole’ and is caused by prolonged pressure of the baby’s head against the pelvis during obstructed labour, leaving the girl incontinent. Like in almost every case like this, she is deserted by her husband and ostracised by her community because of her foul smell.