Nearly 1 in 2 Girls in Eritrea are Married by their 18th Birthday.
The Constitution of Eritrea guarantees equal rights for women yet the incidence of child marriage remains high due to deep rooted cultural beliefs and practices.
Child marriage in Eritrea is driven by poverty, dowry and patriarchal ideals of purity.
Limited access to education is associated with the high prevalence of child marriage in Eritrea. 64% of women aged 20-24 with no education and 53% with primary education were married by 18 years, compared to just 12% of women with secondary education or higher.
The Eritrean Civil Code (articles 329 and 581) sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years for both girls and boys.
However, there is a lack of awareness about the legality of child marriage and its harmful impacts. A major difficulty in tackling child marriage is the conflicting nature of Eritrea’s legal systems, as formal and customary laws are not harmonised.
Customary law carries great weight in Eritrean society and provides for a minimum age of marriage which is 15 for females and 18 for males.
Marriage, Family, and Kinship
Marriage: Customary rules of marriage vary among the ethnic groups. Generally, girls marry at an early age, sometimes as young as fourteen. A large share of the marriages in the rural areas are still arranged by the family groups of concern.
Domestic Unit: Generally, people live together in nuclear families, although in some ethnic groups the family structure is extended. The man is the public decision-maker in the family, whereas the woman is responsible for organizing the domestic activities of the household.
Inheritance: Inheritance rules in Eritrea follow the customary norms of the different ethnic groups. Generally, men are favored over women, and sons inherit their parents’ household possessions.
Kin Groups: The nuclear family, although forming the smallest kin unit, is always socially embedded in a wider kin unit. The lineage and/or clan hold an organizing function in terms of social duties and obligations and as a level of identity. With the exception of the Kunama who are matrilineal, all ethnic groups in Eritrea are patrilineal, that is, descent is traced through the male line.
On 11 June 2016, the Government of Eritrea launched the African Union campaign to end child marriage and a multi-sectoral national strategy to end child marriage.
The government is working on tackling female genital cutting and gender parity in elementary and middle education, which aims to improve the status of girls in Eritrean society and decrease the incidence of child marriage. The Ministry of Education is conducting awareness-raising on the need to send girls to school, while supporting married girls to complete their education.
In the early 1990s, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front sought social transformation around women’s issues and successfully pushed for legislation that abolished forced marriages, child marriages and dowries.