They said I had to get married: Arsema's story
Arsema* is a 14- year-old girl who lives in a small village in Tigray region, Ethiopia. Before the Coronavirus pandemic happened, Arsema was a grade seven student. An outstanding student, Arsema came in third in the last academic semester. Then Schools were closed due to the pandemic and Arsema had to stay at home like 26 million other children across Ethiopia.
Arsema says, “As school were closed and I was staying at home, my parents told me I was going to get married soon. I became very scared. I did nothing but cry day and night.”
But all was not lost. With just two days before her planned wedding, as a last resort, Arsema called her older brother who lives in a another town and told him about her predicament. He immediately informed the school principal Tezerash who then informed the District Women’s Affairs office as well as Gebrerufael, Save the Children’s staff in charge of the sponsorship operation there and serves as our child safeguarding champion.
Arsema had dogged the bullet.
The system that Save the Children formed in her and many other schools, whereby school principals and volunteers inform us of children at risk, was immediately informed of her situation. This meant the district police was now involved, the marriage canceled and her parents received the much-needed counsel on the ills of early and forced marriage.
“I couldn’t be happier. Now I can study hard and become a doctor,” Arsema said.
Tezerash, the school principal says, “School protects girls. It protects them from early and forced marriage. Our female students are lucky because we are overseeing child-safeguarding issues in collaboration with the Save the Children sponsorship program volunteers. But I wonder how many other female students in Ethiopia face the threat of early marriage during COVID 19.”