Understanding female adolescent 'runaways' and the implications of their decisions in Tigray, northern Ethiopia
Lurgain, Jone G.
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Lurgain, J. G. & Eyber, C. (2019) Understanding female adolescent ‘runaways’ and the implications of their decisions in Tigray, northern Ethiopia. Child Abuse & Neglect (In Press).
This study aimed to understand the main factors influencing the decision of adolescent girls to run away from home in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, and to explore the social and cultural construction of female adolescent runaways in this region. In-depth qualitative interviews with seven runaway adolescent girls and six women married at an early age (11-16 years old) were conducted in Wukro and Mekelle in Tigray to investigate why the girls escaped from home and how communities responded to these decisions. Findings suggest that the immediate trigger that led all the young participants to run away was to escape an arranged marriage, except in one 'romantic' elopement case. Individual and structural factors, such as child maltreatment and educational aspirations, and new family law respectively, also contributed to the decision to escape. Adolescent runaways seem to be ignored or normalized within the community in Tigray and, in particular, by its public institutions. This may explain why there are limited services for runaway girls, such as shelters and other forms of support. This lack of social protection structures has left these girls unprotected and exposed to a range of risks, such as early and unwanted pregnancies, labor exploitation, dropping out of school, and transactional sex. To date, this phenomenon of adolescent runaways has remained an invisible issue in Tigray as runaway girls are counted under general migration figures. Further research is needed to explore how this phenomenon is categorized at policy level in order to address runaway girls' needs as defined by them.