The Central Highlands of Ethiopia — Tihun Nebiyu the goat herder doesn't want to marry. She is adamant about this. But in her village nobody heeds the opinions of headstrong little girls.
That's why she's kneeling in the filigreed shade of her favorite thorn tree, dropping beetles down her dress. Magic beetles.
“When they bite you here — ” Tihun explains gravely, pressing the scrabbling insects into her chest through the fabric of her tattered smock “ — it makes your breasts grow.”
This is Tihun's own wishful brand of sorcery — a child's desperate measure to turn herself into an adult. Then maybe, just maybe, her family would respect her wishes not to wed. She could rebuff the strange man her papa has chosen to be her husband. And she wouldn't have to bear his dumb babies.
Tihun kneels in the dirt, eyes closed: an elfin figure whose smile is made goofily endearing by two missing front teeth. Seconds pass. But nothing happens. Eventually, she starts to giggle. The beetles have escaped — by crawling up her neck.
“It doesn't work!” Tihun says, disgusted. She heaves an exaggerated sigh and squints out across the yellow-grass hills surrounding her world: “I will just have to run.”
But this is childish bluster. Tihun's short legs can't carry her away fast enough from the death of her childhood. Her wedding is five days away. And she is 7 years old.
Children no more
There are, according to child-rights activists, an estimated 50 million Tihuns scattered across the world: young teen or even preteen girls whose innocence is being sacrificed to arranged marriages, often to older men.
Kansas City Star