Child Marriage in Ethiopia: an Analysis of Critical Junctures

By Kelsey Bischot

Mahoney argues that when the choices of key actors are critical juncture points, it leads to the formation of institutions that have self-reproducing properties. Critical junctures are choice points when a particular option is adopted from among two or more alternatives. These critical points in time then lead to the structural persistence of institutions.

Critical junctures are usually thought of on a large scale, affecting central institutions and their countries, but I pose the importance of smaller critical junctures such as ones in villages created by “plain folk.”

When Aberash Bekele was 14 years old she had to make a decision that would impact not only her future, but the future of her village and women’s rights. Bekele was abducted from her home in a small village in Ethiopia (child abduction is an accepted method of marriage in Ethiopia) and was faced with a dark menu of options: either accept it like all the other girls in her village did before her, or escape and make her own future. In the end, she killed her abductor, but was arrested immediately and it took three years until the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association was able to fight her case and release her. After this event, things changed dramatically in Bekele’s village. For the next seven to eight years, not one girl got abducted, because people knew that there were consequences. Thus, the institution against abduction changed from being widely disregarded to slowly becoming more accepted and followed in this small village. This could potentially be an institutional example for the rest of Ethiopia.

Mahoney argues that critical junctures will lead to the persistence of the institution, which so far has been the case in this small village in Ethiopia, but only time will tell if it truly produces an outcome of institutional change.