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Twenty-five year old Falum Zeinu has been participating in the Integrated Programme on the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Marriage being implemented in his district for the past more than 4 years. Representing the youth he engages in the Community Conversation sessions held in his locality on a biweekly basis involving also other members of his community. The community conversation sessions discuss mainly about harmful practices that have been jeopardizing the lives of women and girls and on ways of combatting them.

“It was out of ignorance that we have been practicing the harmful practices. Now that we are aware of the harms of those practices we have resolved that we need to abandon them,” says Falum. He adds that the youth have especially come to the understanding that it is up to them to stop the practices by playing an exemplary role.

Falum repents committing a harmful practice himself marrying his wife when she was just 15 years of age. “I now think that marrying an underage girl is not right. I have learned a lot from my participation in the programme and I have resolved not to get my daughter circumcised as I have witnessed the ordeal my wife went through when giving birth,” he remarks.

The Integrated Programme on the Abandonment of FGM and Child Marriage is the first of its kind in the Afar Region attempting to address these two challenges together.   The programme supported by UNFPA through funding secured from the UN Association in Sweden is overseen by the Abala District Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office.

As demonstrated in the Afambo District where it was piloted a couple of years before, the programme is adding vigor to the ongoing efforts in the Afar Region at fighting FGM and child marriage. All the localities where the programme was piloted in the Afambo District have publicly abandoned the practices of FGM and child marriage.  

But there is still a long way to go in realizing that for women and girls across the region. The Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey of 2016 puts the Afar Region among the top three in the prevalence of child marriage in the country. Moreover, despite the progresses made in recent years the Region ranks second in the prevalence of the practice of FGM at 98 percent.

Thanks to the programme, says Falum, he has been sensitized on the harms of practices like child marriage and FGM on girls. “When girls are married too young they face the problem of teenage pregnancy putting their lives at risk,” he notes.

Young men like Falum are working with structures put in place in the localities to monitor the implementation of the programme. The structures comprise the local administration, clan leaders, religious leaders, ex-circumcisers, and the Kadis (local judges). 

 “We are seeing changes since the programme started. Girls are going to school and being protected from harmful practices. Young men are also going to school” says Falum with an air of satisfaction indicating that the programme is also benefiting other sections of communities. 

But Falum emphasizes the need for the changes brought about by the programme to be sustained.