In Ethiopia, Child Victims of Sexual Violence Communicate through Art Therapy

UNICEF and Government Communication Affairs Office Provide Training on Ending Violence Against Children

By Frehiwot Yilma

ADAMA, OROMIA REGION, 26 March 2018 – The explanation of the first picture immediately grabbed everyone’s attention in the room as psychologist Mekonnen Belete described how the child that drew it was showing that she had been abused by an uncle.

Here at the UNICEF-supported One-stop Centre in Adama Hospital in the Oromia region, counsellors are using a model adapted from the Thutuzela Care Centres of South Africa to provide timely and comprehensive medical and counselling services to victims of Violence Against Women and Children.

IMG_2972“Usually when children draw disfigured faces it indicates the people they are drawing are not very helpful. As you can see the woman’s mouth is wider than usual to indicate the woman (the child’s mother) was laughing at her when she told her of the abuse she experienced by the uncle who came from the rural areas indicated by the child in a form of a hut,” said Mekonnen, who noted that most of the children he counsels are abused by acquaintances, stepfathers and relatives.

The Adama One-stop Centre was introduced in 2013, the second to be established in Ethiopia after the centre in the Gandhi Hospital in the capital Addis Ababa and it has been successful in rehabilitating survivors as well as prosecuting the perpetrators by offering medical and legal services to victims of sexual violence. In the Oromia region, there are two other such centres in Shashemene and Jimma towns that were established and supported by UNICEF.

The centre is staffed by three prosecutors and four female investigative police officers. Clinical and counselling services are managed by a medical doctor, nurse and a psychologist provided by the hospital. Overall management of the centre is entrusted to the Justice Office, which coordinates through a multi-sectoral steering committee comprising, but not limited to, representatives from the Women, Children Affairs Office, the Health Office, the High/Woreda Court, the Adama Police Commission, the Education Office and selected child care institutions, showing how protecting women and children cannot be left to one party – everyone has a role to play. Concerted efforts bring tangible and sustainable change to ensure that not even one case is treated as the norm.

The second picture, in the sequence of the five pictures drawn by the child as she recovered from the trauma of the abuse by her uncle, is brighter than the first one but still has traces of uncertainty. According to Mekonnen, the flag in the picture indicates the medical and legal services she received. Until the girl gains confidence in these services, the flag remains at the side of the picture, showing her doubt about the system surrounding her.

Before the establishment of the One-stop Centre, victims of sexual violence were hidden for a number of reasons, including the families believing their children (especially if they accused family members), the stigma around sexual violence, blaming the victim, the lack of victim friendly services, denial that the actions took place and the difficulty of proving the abuse.

IMG_2975“The number of victims we support has been increasing from year to year,” said Inspector Etenesh Deresse of the Adama Police, the focal person for women and children cases. “This is not because children were not abused before, but people are now putting their trust in the confidentiality, speed, victim friendly and accuracy of the services provided in the centre. Now, parents and caregivers are bringing alleged reports (to us) just to make sure.”

UNICEF helped the Oromia Police College to revise its curriculum to include issues of violence against children as well as have courts include social workers on the government payroll. Currently, 40 courts have child-friendly benches and the One-stop Centre service has been scaled up from three to 17 hospitals in the region.

In the final picture the child drew, a new thought, the product of several counselling sessions, has emerged – hope for her and justice for her uncle. She was finally able to put herself in the picture and imagine and dream again.

IMG_2971When Mekonnen showed pictures drawn by children who were not abused, the difference in the attitude and aspirations was evident. Those who were not abused were able to write about the subjects they were learning, draw their house or a landscape in a free and lively way, but the ones with some trace of abuse tend to focus on one particular aspect of their life and sometimes were not even be able to depict that.

UNICEF has provided critical support to improve child justice in Ethiopia by providing equipment, supplies and capacity building trainings to the centres as well as other child friendly services such as child friendly courts, child protection units and justice offices in different regions. UNICEF works with the bureau of justice, Women and Children Affairs, the Supreme Court and police to prevent violence against children.

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