Berhane Hewan: Supporting Girls in Rural Ethiopia
The goal of Berhane Hewan, which means "Light for Eve" in Amharic, is to establish appropriate and effective mechanisms to protect girls at risk of early marriage and to support adolescent girls who are already married.
I hate early marriage. I was married at an early age and my in-laws forced me to sleep with my husband and he made me suffer all night. After that, whenever it starts to get dark, I get worried, thinking that it will be like that. This is what I hate most.
—Amhara girl, age 11, married at age 5,
first sex at age 9
In the Amhara region of Ethiopia, rates of child marriage are among the highest in the world. Nearly half of all girls in Amhara are married before their 15th birthday. Educational attainment in the region remains low. Berhane Hewan ("Light for Eve" in Amharic) helps girls stay in school and remain unmarried.
Identifying populations in need of support through research (2002–04)
In 2002–03, Population Council researchers conducted in-depth interviews and a quantitative survey of more than 1,800 adolescent boys and girls in rural Amhara region, Ethiopia. The objective of the survey was to identify subgroups of adolescents who were not being reached by current programs and to use research data to design support programs for them. Married adolescent girls were identified as a vulnerable and underserved group.
Amhara girls interviewed described the trauma and isolation of early marriage:
- Early marriage was extremely common, virtually always arranged, and girls had very little foreknowledge of their marriage or their husband. Ninety-five percent of the girls surveyed did not know their husband before marriage, and 85 percent were given no forewarning that they were going to be married.
- Marriage effectively forced girls into having unwanted, uninformed sexual relations with a relative stranger.
- More than two-thirds of married girls reported that they had not yet started menstruating when they had sex for the first time.
- Not surprisingly, many of these marital unions are unstable, and 12 percent of girls in Amhara aged 10–19 already are divorced.
- Girls experienced significant trauma during these transitions as well as social isolation and lack of support following marriage.
Testing strategies to increase the age at marriage and keep girls in school (2004–09)
The Berhane Hewan pilot project was first implemented in late 2004 as a joint project between the Population Council and the former Amhara Regional Bureau of Youth and Sports (ARBOYS), now the Amhara Regional Bureau of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs. The goal was to establish appropriate and effective mechanisms to protect girls at risk of forced early marriage and support girls who were already married.
The program addresses the cultural and economic drivers of early marriage. "Community conversations" were used to encourage communities to discuss child marriage. Families were offered school supplies (US$6 in school supplies for each girl, per year) to address the economic barriers to sending girls to school. In addition, families who kept girls unmarried for the duration of the two-year pilot were awarded a sheep or a goat valued at $20–$25 in a public ceremony. Further, girls who were already married were encouraged to join mentoring groups to address their social isolation and were provided with nonformal education and support to get family planning if they desired.
The evaluation found that girls aged 10–14 in the experimental site were one-tenth as likely to be married at endline, compared to girls in the control site, and three times more likely to be in school. Married girls in the project site were three times more likely to be using family planning methods compared to married girls in the control site. A shortcoming of the evaluation was that it was unable to determine which component of the intervention—community conversations, school supplies, sheep/goats, or the mentoring groups—was most successful.
Identifying and costing critical strategies that impact upon child marriage, schooling and reproductive behavior (2010–15)
With support from USAID, the Population Council and the Amhara Regional Bureau of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs are continuing Berhane Hewan in Amhara region. To determine the most effective strategy to delay early marriage, various interventions are being implemented in different districts, focusing on girls aged 12–17. Components include providing school materials, conditional cash transfers, and community awareness activities through religious leaders and community conversations. The impact of the strategies will be measured through population-based surveys that examine age at marriage, educational participation, and reproductive health behavior. Researchers will also track intervention costs and estimate the cost-effectiveness of approaches.
The Berhane Hewan program is one of the first rigorously evaluated projects with the explicit objective of increasing the age at marriage. The project hosted the first field visit of "The Elders" (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr. Gro Brundtland, and Mrs. Mary Robinson), just prior to the launch of its "Girls, Not Brides" campaign.
Delaying early marriage among disadvantaged rural girls in Amhara, Ethiopia, through social support, education, and community awareness (PDF) (PDF en francais)
Muthengi,Eunice; Erulkar,Annabel S.
Promoting Healthy, Safe, and Productive Transitions to Adulthood Brief (no. 20)
Publication Date: 2011
Berhane Hewan ('Light for Eve'): Increasing opportunities to delay marriage and promote schooling (PDF)
Erulkar,Annabel S.; Muthengi-Karei,Eunice
Publication date: 2012
From research, to program design, to implementation: Programming for rural girls in Ethiopia--A toolkit for practitioners (PDF)
Publication date: 2011
Supporting married girls: Calling attention to a neglected group (PDF)
Santhya,K.G.; Erulkar,Annabel S.
Promoting Healthy, Safe, and Productive Transitions to Adulthood Brief (no. 3)
Publication date: 2011
Building programs to address child marriage: The Berhane Hewan experience in Ethiopia (PDF)
Muthengi,Eunice; Erulkar,Annabel S.
Publication date: 2010
Evaluation of Berhane Hewan: A program to delay child marriage in rural Ethiopia (abstract) (PDF)
Erulkar,Annabel S.; Muthengi,Eunice
International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 35(1): 6-14
Publication date: 2009
Location: Ethiopia (Amhara)
Poverty, Gender, and Youth
Duration: 9/2002 - 10/2015
Population Council researchers:
Amhara Regional Bureau of Women, Children, and Youth