"Harmful Traditional Practices and Child Protection: Contested Understandings and Practices of Female Child Marriage and Circumcision in Ethiopia"


Local perspectives on female child marriage and circumcision in Ethiopia are explored in this paper. Both practices are widespread still, despite international and national efforts to eradicate them, and reflect deep-rooted patriarchal and gerontocratic values regulating transactions between kin groups at marriage and women’s reproduction. Both have been designated as Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) by the Ethiopian government and are proscribed by law, with designated punishments. The paper explores the values that drive these practices and examines whether and in what ways they have been affected by efforts to eradicate them. The analysis draws on interviews with 25 children and young people from five communities, as well as their peers, caregivers and community representatives, conducted in 2007, 2008 and 2011. The paper uses both statistical and ethnographic evidence to assess the prevalence of the two customs and the cultural and material logic underpinning them. It gives an overview of the external forces militating for change and presents evidence on trends of change. This is followed by analysis of the personal experiences of Young Lives children and the discourses against the practices, as well as a consideration of the resistance to change. Finally, the discussion reflects on wider issues of modernity and rising aspirations for girls.


Jo Boyden, Alula Pankhurst and Yisak Tafere



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