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I think of Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian girl held in a cellar for eight years, and who now grieves for her captor who killed himself. In 2003 – the last year for which statistics are available – the National Committee on Traditional Practices of Ethiopia found that 69 per cent of marriages begin like this, with the triple-whammy of abduction, rape, and a forced signature.
She ran for miles barefoot back to her family, wanting to return to her life, and to her childhood. "But my father told me that now I had had sex with him, nobody else would want me because I was ruined goods, and I had to go back to him and be a good wife," she says. Nurame has a distant sense of another life, one she will never lead now. I would have been educated and got my own work and lived my own life. I have to be happy – at least I have children; I love them." She adjusts her black bandana and looks down. He is a very good man." She gives a big gap-toothed smile of apparent sincerity."She was a very intelligent, very wise woman – but all her life she was abused and beaten – for nothing. When there is no alternative, you somehow accept this as all you will get.She had her back stooped, her legs broken, her jaw broken, even though she did everything right. In that situation, many women accept their situation as God-given, not man-made." When Boge was 12, she was pinned down and had her genitals cut out with a knife. Culture is not stagnant – it is transient." One day, as a little girl, she was sent to stay overnight with one of her cousins when she saw the Amharic alphabet on the wall.Nurame was in her bed when she was woken by an angry mêlée.
In her family's hut there were grown men – an incredible number, 10 or more, all in their 30s, all standing over her father, shouting. At night here, where there is no electricity, perfect darkness falls, and everything becomes a shadow-play of barely visible flickers.
"I started screaming and tried to run out of the hut," she says. – but one of the men found me." She was taken back to his home, held down in front of his family, raped, and taken to be married the next morning.