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Jul. 21 (GIN) – At an upcoming “Girl Summit” this week in London, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) will speak out against a growing trend of young girls pushed to marry at 14 and then swiftly divorced, trapped in a cycle of child labor in order to send money to their parents in Ethiopia.

The UK-based ODI will warn that parents who see their daughters as commodities are pushing record numbers of girls into abusive early marriages. Some 39,000 child brides marry every day – 14 million a year – often against their will. Amhara has Ethiopia's lowest average marriage age – 14.7 years – and one of its highest illiteracy rates.

In an example provided by the ODI, Lubaba Abdella, a teenager, dropped out of school, married, divorced three months later and emigrated illegally so she could cook and clean for a Saudi family. Her earnings were sent home to support her parents and eight siblings. Back now in Ethiopia, she has little hope for a future of her choice.

In the Ethiopian region of Amhara, reports the ODI, three-quarters of girls become child brides like Abdella.

“There is a Middle Passage of sorts taking place today from Ethiopia to the Middle East,” writes Alemayehu G. Mariam, professor at California State University, San Bernardino. “It is what lawyer Khaled Ali Beydoun (in the Berkeley Journal of International Law) and others have described as the Ethiopian “Maid Trade”.

The so-called ‘maid trade’, he continues, is run by a network of “unscrupulous modern-day slave-traffickers and ‘private labor employment agencies’ operating under license by the ruling regime in Ethiopia… They transship thousands of young Ethiopian women to various parts of the Middle East to work as domestic servants in what amounts to “contract slavery” with little follow up and monitoring to ensure their well-being and welfare in their host countries.”

It is now illegal under Ethiopian law for anyone under 18 to migrate to work but Abdella, like thousands of others, got a passport by using a fake ID and telling the authorities she was 27. The entire process cost 15,000 birr ($800). She cooked, cleaned and washed clothes for a Saudi couple and their three children and was paid 800 riyals ($213) a month, paying off the debt and earning enough for her family to be connected to electricity and water and cover food bills.

The job came to an end after 20 months when Saudi Arabia carried out a mass deportation of illegal foreign workers. "I'm doing nothing at the moment," sighed Abdella… “Seeing my family suffering here, I don't want to remarry, I just want to support my family. I want to go back to the Middle East. There's no other option because the wage is really low here.”

The findings are being released before the first Girl Summit, hosted by the British government and Unicef with the aim of ending female genital mutilation and child marriage within a generation.

For more information, visit w/pix of L. Abdella

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