ETHIOPIA (General Remarks) 





Featured: Kaffa, Udhuk, Nuer, Majangir, Afar, Amhara, Qemant, Oromo, Arbore


“[…] the Civil Code prohibits marriage of men under the age of 18 years and women under the age of 15 years[1]. Early marriage, however, is pervasive in Ethiopia, with girls often marrying at the age of 14 or younger[2]. These marriages, generally arranged by a couple’s parents in conformity with tradition, are motivated in part by the need to ensure a girl’s virginity at the time of marriage[3][4].

Among the Ethiopian Galla, marriages are arranged, often with betrothal at a very young age (Holcomb, 1973)[5]. In Ethiopia, the marriage age for females is 12-15, to prevent pre-marital pregnancy (Beddada)[6]. Among the [Abessinier], clitoridectomy and male circumcision are performed seven days after puberty (Bieber, 1908:p49-99)[7]. Girls may be married from age ten upward, in which case consummation is delayed (p54). Among the Islamic Galla, infibulation is performed at age eight to ten (p76). Marriage of girls may be as early as age ten, boys marry at 15 (p77). Among the [Kaffitscho], the girl’s clitoris is extirpated at the age of 4 months to 1 year (p84). After menarche, as early as age nine or ten, she is ready for marriage (p85); a premarital sex life is not considered possible. Among the Ometi, girls marry at age 13-15, “before menarche” [although this commonly occurs at age 12], and boys at age 14-16; circumcision and clitoral extirpation take place before marriage (p95-6). Among the Amhara, sex education of boys is not commonplace; girls are instructed by the mother before menarche / marriage (Bieber, 1911:p189-90)[8]. Among the Galla and [Kaffitscho], mutual masturbation of boys and girls, as well as bestiality with horses and donkeys among herd boys is common (p192, 193).

According to a study on rural adolescent girls in the Fitche district of Ethiopia[9], it was found that, although girls learned how to do domestic tasks from their mothers, they had little knowledge of menses or proper hygiene during menstruation. Parents expressed little interest in educating their girls about puberty, menses, or sexuality. Virginity is of prime importance in this community, and girls are often circumcised. However, because girls are strictly isolated from boys, kidnapping and rape are not uncommon.


Data suggest that ethnic groups “Adere and the Oromo used FGM [female genital mutilation] on women aged from 4 years to puberty, and the Amharaon the 8th day of birth. […] Women believed the practice to be fully supported by men. Men preferred marrying women subjected to FGM, because the women would then not be sexually overactive and unfaithful”[10]. According to Grisaru et al. (1997)[11] among Ethiopian Jews the operation is performed on day 14, or 7, of life, for aesthetic reasons, or “to create adhesions that prevent premarital intercourse”.


For more info on the “female life cycle” see Elfmann (2004/5, pp. 51-96)[12].


Ethnographic Particularities


Featured: Kaffa, Udhuk, Nuer, Majangir, Afar, Amhara, Qemant, Oromo, Arbore



Further reading:


·         Getnet Tadele, Surviving on the streets: Sexuality and HIV/AIDS among Male Street youth in Dessie, Ethiopia, 2002 event: 'Social Sciences and HIV' []

·         Huber, A. (1966) Weibliche Zirkumzision und Infibulation in Athiopien, Acta Tropica 23,1:87-91

·         Molla, Mitike; Shabbir Ismail, Abera Kumie, Fikreab Kebede (Spring 2003) Youth and Sexual Violence among Female Street Adolescents in Addis Ababa, April 2000, Ethiopian J Health Developm 16,2

·         Taffa, Negussie; Johanne Sundby, Carol Holm-Hansen & Gunnar Bjune (2002)HIV prevalence and socio-cultural contexts of sexuality among youth in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Ethiopian J Health Developm 16,2:139-45

·         Cherkosie, A. (2000) Situational Analysis Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in East Africa. ECPAT International, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, p7-18 [fulltext at]

·         Child marriage briefing: Ethiopia. New York: Population Council, 2004 []

·         Kibret, Mulugeta (2003) Reproductive Health Knowledge, Attitude and Practice among High School Students in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, African J Reproductive Health 7,2:39-45 []

·         Razor’s Edge - The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation - IRIN Web Special, March 2005 []

·        A Note on Culturally Condoned Forms of Violence Against Women in Ethiopia: FGM, Early Marriage and Abduction (doc). Based on research carried out by the Ethiopian Women's Lawyers Association, Hundee, and Kembatta Women's Self-Help Centre, 2002.






Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Jan 2006



[1] Civ. Code Art. 581

[2] Hawkins, K. et al., (1993) Review of the Youth Programme of the Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia

[3] Dagne, H. G. (1994) Early Marriage in Northern Ethiopia, Reproductive Health Matters 4:35-8

[4] As cited by CRLP (2001) Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives: Anglophone Africa. Progress Report, p13-29, at p26

[5] Holcomb, B. K. (1973) Oromo marriage in Wallaga Province, Ethiopia, J Ethiopian Stud 11,1:107-42

[6] Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and Children. WHO/EMRO Technical Report No. 2, Vol. 1. Report of a Seminar, Khartoum, 10-15 February, 1979, p138

[7] Bieber, F. J. (1908) Geschlechtsleben in Äthiopien, Anthropophyteia 5:45-99

[8] Bieber, F. J. (1911) Neue Forschungen über das Geschlechtsleben in Äthiopien, Anthropophyteia 8:184-93

[9] Afework, K. et al. (1997) Preparation of Rural Adolescent Girls to Adulthood in Fitche District, Ethiopia, Curare 11, Special:13-20

[10] Missailidis, K. & Gebre- Medhin, M. (2000) Female genital mutilation in eastern Ethiopia, Lancet, 07/08/2000;356(9224):137-8

[11] Grisaru, Nimrod; Simcha Lezer, R H Belmaker (1997) Ritual Female Genital Surgery Among Ethiopian Jews, Arch Sexual Behav 26,2:211-5

[12]Elfmann, Peggy (2004/5) Women’s Worlds in Dassanetch, Southern Ethiopia. Institut für Ethnologie und Afrikastudien, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Arbeitspapiere / Working Papers Nr. 53 []