Drilling Deep to Keep Children’s Teeth and Bones Protected in Ethiopia

By Samuel Godfrey

Amanuel Fiseha 13 years old one of the residents of Boset woreda who is affected by Fluoride water.
Amanuel Fiseha 13 years old one of the residents of Boset woreda, Wellenchiti, Ethiopia, has stained teeth, as the result of drinking water that contains high level of fluoride.. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tesfaye.

Many people living in the Rift Valley area of Ethiopia have stained teeth, as the result of drinking water that contains high level of fluoride. The yellowing of the teeth is one of the physical symptoms of consuming high levels of fluoride. Other symptoms include skeletal fluorosis, where children’s legs and arms are deformed resulting in physical disabilities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that drinking water should contain less than 1.5 milligram of fluoride per litre to ensure that teeth and bones are protected.

Fluoride gets into the water supply from the geological rock formations of the Ethiopian Rift Valley. Studies undertaken by the British Geological Survey have recorded levels of fluoride as high as 25 milligrams per litre in the area. These excess levels of fluoride are affecting more than 14 million women and children from Afar, Oromia and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR), as well as parts of the Ethiopian Somali Region.

To solve the problem of excess fluoride, numerous water treatment technologies have been piloted by the Government of Ethiopia and International Agencies. These have resulted in varying levels of success. In the past, UNICEF has supported the mitigation of fluoride through de-fluoridation techniques in affected woredas, mainly in Oromia and SNNPR. UNICEF has also supported two studies, entitled ‘Study of fluoride and fluorosis in Ethiopia with recommendations on appropriate de-fluoridation technologies’ in 2005 and ‘Spatial distribution of fluoride in the Ethiopian Rift and its adjacent highlands’ in 2011.

Deep well drilling in Abomsa town Wolenchiti woreda of Oromia region
Deep well drilling in Abomsa town Wolenchiti woreda of Oromia region ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015

With the financial support of the UK Department for International Development (DFID), UNICEF has developed a new approach that involves the ‘below ground’ treatment of fluoride. This approach is a permanent hydrogeological solution, which requires study of both the geological formations in which the fluoride occurs as well as the use of advanced remote sensing and groundwater drilling techniques.

Most deep wells that have been drilled in the Rift Valley have a maximum depth of 200 metres. This is due to both the occurrence of productive shallow aquifers (underground layers of water-bearing permeable rocks) and the limitations of available deep well drilling machines. UNICEF proposed to drill ‘deeper’ and to access aquifers that are 250, 300 or even 400 metres below ground level.

In April 2015 , UNICEF drilled a deep well in Welenchiti Town, a first for the Oromia region, to a depth of 259 metres and applied a phased casing technique to block off the shallow aquifers that are contaminated with fluoride. The result is a highly productive deep well with a yield of 11 litres per second – almost 40 thousand litres per hour (or 4 large water tankers per hour) – and a fluoride level of 0.9 milligrams per litre.

As a result of the planned intervention in Welenchiti Town and three surrounding villages, there will be approximately 45,870 beneficiaries by the year 2025. The project is expected to provide acceptable fluoride levels, with far greater health benefits than current supplies, which have resulted in chronic disease that affect all sections of the population, including children, with dental and skeletal fluorosis.

Rotarians visit to Ethiopia – a true demonstration of commitment

By Shalini Rozario

Rotary International advocacy visit to Ethiopia to support the polio eradication efforts and participate in the National Polio Immunization campaign
Rotary International advocacy visit to Ethiopia to support the polio eradication efforts and participate in the National Polio Immunization campaign ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tsegaye

36 Rotarians from Ethiopia, Canada and the United States visited East Shewa zone in the Oromia region of Ethiopia to deliver polio vaccinations to more than 600 children under the age of five.

The visit marked the launch of the first round of polio National Immunisation Days in the country and the group also visited the country office of UNICEF Ethiopia, which is a partner in the global polio eradication initiative.

The visit coincided with an intensified immunisation campaign in Ethiopia, in response to the polio outbreak which began in August 2013, triggered by the Horn of Africa outbreak in Somalia and Kenya.

As of November 2014, 10 cases of Wild Poliovirus Type 1 (WPV1) had been confirmed in the Somali region of Ethiopia.

At the UNICEF Ethiopia offices, members of the Rotary Polio Advocacy Group were shown a video and presentation on polio eradication efforts in the country, followed by a discussion.

Patrizia DiGiovanni, Acting Representative to UNICEF Ethiopia, welcomed the Rotarians and thanked them for their continued support in efforts to eradicate polio, which included a recent grant.

The grant is part of a larger announcement by Rotary International marking World Polio Day of a pledge of $44.7 million to fight polio in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

To date, Rotary has donated more than $1.3 billion to global eradication efforts, allowing the mobilisation of resources at the grass-roots level through volunteer leaders.

Rotary International advocacy visit to Ethiopia to support the polio eradication efforts and participate in the National Polio Immunization campaign
Rotary International advocacy visit to Ethiopia to support the polio eradication efforts and participate in the National Polio Immunisation campaign ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Tsegaye

During their visit to the Oromia region, the Rotarians attended a colourful ceremony at a primary school, alongside Dr Kebede Worku, State Minister at the Federal Ministry of Health and Dr Taye Tolera, Special Adviser to the State Minister of Health.

They were joined by the Federal Ministry of Health Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) team, staff from the East Shewa Zone Health Office, UNICEF, WHO and other partners.

The group visited several kebeles within East Shewa Zone to visit people’s homes and carry out vaccinations, accompanied by kebele Health Extension Workers and Health Workers.

The Lume district health office and Shara Didandiba Health Post organised a kebele launching ceremony to mark the Rotarians’ visit. The Rotarians handed out t-shirts and caps to children and parents at the event.

The visiting Rotarians have a range of backgrounds, but share a common interest in supporting polio immunsation, child health and development programmes in Ethiopia. Some members of the group have visited Ethiopia several times.

The visit was intended to inform and promote polio advocacy work in Canada and the US through advocacy and fundraising, as well as engagement with US Congressional leaders.

Rotary International is spearheading the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, alongside the World Health Organisation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and UNICEF. It has been at the forefront of the global fight against polio for the last three decades.

Trilateral South-South Partnership in Water Supply and Sanitation kicked off


South-South cooperation High Level Seminar on Urban WASH and River Basin Management.
Group photo of South-South Cooperation High Level Seminar participants on Urban WASH and River Basin Management, 20 January 2015, Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa.©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Ayene

ADDIS ABABA, 20 January 2015: Today, the Government of Ethiopia organized a high level event to launch a two year South-South cooperation programme between the Governments of Brazil and Ethiopia on water supply and sanitation in Addis Ababa.

Present on the occasion were H.E. Alemayehu Tegenu, Federal Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, H.E Kebede Gerba, State Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Ms. Meseret Yetube, Director of Primary Health Services and Health Extension Programme at the Federal Ministry of Health, H.E. Ms. Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert, Ambassador of Brazil to Ethiopia, Ms. Angela Spilsbury, Senior Health Advisor of DFID, delegates from Brazilian Government and members of the media.

The high level mission from Brazil comprised of a nine- person delegation to introduce innovative approaches to accelerate the One WASH national programme and address the three pending challenges namely urban sanitation, urban water regulation and watershed management.

His Excellency Alemaneyu Tegenu, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy and Chairman of the National WASH Steering Committee in Ethiopia began his keynote address by congratulating the Brazilian delegation who travelled a long journey from South America to attend the inception mission for the South-South cooperation programme. He also thanked the Government of Brazil for letting Ethiopian experts visit exemplary reality in their country within the urban WASH to learn from successful models for the development of Ethiopian towns.

H.E. Ms. Isabel Cristina de Azevedo Heyvaert, Ambassador of Brazil to Ethiopia on her part revealed, “This meeting is one of the main benchmarks of my five year term of office as an Ambassador given its strategic importance for the economy and social development. I really consider this to be chance to participate in a meaningful way of the improvement of the quality of life of people and especially women and children, the most vulnerable beings in the society.”

In September 2014, UNICEF Brazil and UNICEF Ethiopia with the financial support from DFID organized a high level delegation to Brazil led by the State Ministers of Health and Water, Irrigation and Energy. The objective of the mission was to get insights on how Brazil has advanced in providing Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in urban areas given its rapid urbanization in the last 50 years, which reduced significantly child mortality. During this mission, the government delegates were impressed by the advances made in managing fecal, solid and liquid waste management in small and medium sized towns. Additionally, they learnt how effective regulation can ensure that low income families and marginalised households in urban areas are able to receive affordable water supply.

South-South cooperation High Level Seminar on Urban WASH and River Basin Management.
Ms. Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF representative a.i. to Ethiopia giving a keynote speech at the South-South Cooperation High Level Seminar on Urban WASH and River Basin Management, 20 January 2015, Hilton Hotel, Addis Ababa. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Ayene

Ms. Anupama Rao Singh, Acting UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia on her part said, “UNICEF is looking at different technology options, and with the support of the Brazilian experts, we intend to pilot small scale, condominium, sewerage systems which can better fit the needs of small and medium towns in the country. In addition, UNICEF is supporting the development of the Urban Sanitation and Hygiene policy for a more efficient and coordinated efforts in making Ethiopian towns greener and healthier for women and children and the population at large.”

Through the DFID financed One WASH plus programme, UNICEF has been requested by the Government of Ethiopia to lead the development of a national integrated urban sanitation strategy. The South-South collaboration with Brazil will provide expert inputs to enable the finalisation of this strategy.

Ms. Angela Spilsbury, Senior Health Advisor of DFID announced that the UK Government will provide 106 million euros over the next five years to the One WASH national programme out of which, 22 million will be given to UNICEF to address the needs of women and girls in relation to water and sanitation, enhancing the engagement of the private sector and linking water resources management to climate resilience.

“Ethiopia would like to emphasize on enhancing partnership and development such as this since a national strategy on integrated urban sanitation and hygiene is being developed and hopefully ratified very soon”, said Ms. Meseret Yetube, Director of Primary Health Services and Health Extension Programme at the Federal Ministry of Health. “In line with this, the exchange visit we have been doing will definitely benefit our countries not only in the WASH sector but also in other walks of life”, she added.

The delegation from Brazil will visit four regions of Ethiopia in three teams. The first team will visit Adama and Gonder in Oromia and Amhara regions respectively and will focus on the establishment of independent water regulation for urban settlements. The second team, led by Dr. Samuel Godfrey, Chief of Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in UNICEF Ethiopia, will visit Tigray with the objective of establishing a “technology transfer” of condominium sewerage for high density population areas. And a third team will visit the Awash basin in the Afar Region to exchange ideas on water resources management. The output of this visit will be a two year collaboration on Water Supply and Sanitation sector between the Governments of Ethiopia and Brazil.

South-South cooperation is a term used by policymakers and academics to describe the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge between developing countries, also known as countries of the global South. Over the past decade, Brazil´s South-South cooperation with Africa has been growing rapidly and this represents an exemplary initiative of trilateral agreement between the Governments of Brazil and Ethiopia with the support of UNICEF.


Global Hand washing Day (GHD) 2014 celebrated in Oromia, Ethiopia

By Kulule Mekonnen

Kimbibit woreda community welcomes participants of Global Handwashing Day participants colourfully with their decorated horses
Kimbibit woreda community welcomes participants of Global Handwashing Day participants colourfully with their decorated horses ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/ Sewunet

Hundreds of people marked Global Hand Washing Day with a colourful celebration at Garachatu School in Kimbibit woreda, Oromia region.

The region has been celebrating Global Hand Washing day since 2008, which was International Year of Sanitation.

Community members travelled to the event on foot and on horseback, wearing colourful traditional clothes to welcome government officials and invited guests to the celebrations.

The event is marked in many countries every year to underline the importance of handwashing in the prevention of common but potentially lethal diseases such as diarrohea, pneumonia, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola and others.

The event at Garatchu School included the reading of poems by students, songs and performances, focusing on the importance of handwashing.

Dr Zelalem Habtamu, Deputy Head of the Oromia Regional Health Bureau, said: “We believe that we could prevent over 60 % of communicable diseases by implementing proper environmental health interventions. This is why we focus on advocating proper hand washing practices at critical times.’’

Oromia has made solid progress in improving hygiene, deploying 13,000 health extension workers and 4.5 million health development armies. These are small groups of women that meet regularly to discuss and solve issues relating to public health, socio-economic, environmental and economic concerns.

Students of Garachatu School perform a play on the importance of handwashing
Students of Garachatu School perform a play on the importance of handwashing at the Global Handwashing Day celebration ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

Dr. Zelalem added: “We are celebrating this year’s GHD in Garachatu School, with the school community and their families, with the intention of reaching every family, as we believe that students could carry on the positive hand washing behaviours learnt at schools with their families and their neighbourhood.”

Hand washing with soap removes germs from hands, preventing the transmission of infections when people touch their eyes, nose or mouth. It can also prevent germs getting into food and drink, as often happens when they are prepared by people with unclean hands. These germs can then multiply, risking the spread of infection to more people.

Germs from unwashed hands can also be transferred to objects like handrails, table tops or toys and spread easily.

Removing germs through proper hand washing helps prevent diarrhoea and respiratory infections and may also help prevent skin and eye infections.

Research shows that community hand washing education has a number of hygiene benefits. It reduces cases of diarrhoea by 31 percent, diarrheic illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58 percent and respiratory illnesses, such as colds, in the general population by 21 percent.

Figures released recently by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation show that in 2013 more than 340,000 children under five – almost 1,000 a day – died from diarrheic diseases due to lack of safe water, sanitation and basic hygiene. As the Ebola response takes its toll on the health services in the affected countries, the practice of hand washing is even more important to prevent these common diseases.

Participants washes their hands at the Global Hand washing Day celebration in Garachatu School, Kimbibit woreda of Oromia region, Ethiopia.
Participants wash their hands at the Global Hand washing Day celebration in Garachatu School, Kimbibit woreda of Oromia region, Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

UNICEF works with regional government and non-governmental organisations to improve access to safe drinking water, sanitation and healthy environments and better hygiene practices.

It also focuses on capacity building to eliminate open defecation and improve hand-washing facilities in schools and health centres, focusing on the needs of girls.

W/ro Zewuditu Areda, Head of the North Shewa Zonal Health Department, said: “Proper hand washing prevents disease and saves lives, hence hands should be properly washed.”

The event ended with a demonstration of 10 steps of proper hand washing by Belay Techane, a Kimbibit Woreda Health Worker. The steps include:

  • First hand should be rinsed and wet
  • Apply soap and thoroughly scrub hands and forearms up to elbow. Give special attention to scrubbing your nails and the space between your fingers
  • Rinse with generous amount of clean water flowing
  • Air-dry with your hands up and elbows facing the ground, so that water drips away from your hands and fingers
  • After the demonstration, all participants of the day practiced proper hand washing using soap as demonstrated by the health worker.

In Ethiopia, Danish diplomats observe progress in child protection

The Danish Government has been providing support to the Justice for Children programme, through UNICEF Ethiopia, since June 2007. On June 20, 2014, the Danish Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr Stephan Schønemann, and the Deputy Head of Mission, Mrs Lotte Machon, visited Adama to gain an insight into the Child Protection services provided to women and children.

The Child-Friendly Justice Programme is designed and implemented by governmental and non-governmental partner organisations, with technical and financial support from UNICEF. At governmental level, the Programme is jointly coordinated and implemented by the Federal Supreme Court, the Federal Ministry of Justice, and regional supreme courts and bureaus of justice, in close collaboration with institutions involved in the justice, health, social and education sectors, as well as civil society organisations.

At the Adama zonal police station, the visitors met with Inspector Shitu Likisa and Ms Welansa Negash – focal persons of the Child Protection Unit (CPU) for the Oromia Region and the Adama zonal police station, respectively. They explained the objectives and processes of the CPU, as well as the challenges faced in the day-to-day work.

The Child Protection Unit aims to improve the treatment of children by law enforcement organs, whilst ensuring alternatives to custodial measures in the treatment of young offenders. It was established within the compounds of the Adama town police station, as a separate block close to the outside gates. The CPU contains three furnished rooms, which are used for the investigation of cases, as well as providing distinct temporary accommodation, including toilet facilities, separately for boys and girls. It is staffed by one female police officer and one social worker, the latter of which is also responsible for the child friendly bench and child friendly court at the Adama High Court. The police officer was provided with specialised training on the legal, operational and psychological aspects of the work.

Mr. Stephan Schønemann, Ambassador of the Royal Danish Embassy discussing with Ato Bojja Taddesse, Oromia Supreme Court Vice President

Despite UNICEF’s investments into the CPU, in the form of training and stationary, as well as the renovation and furnishing of both the investigation rooms and accommodation, there are still remaining gaps to be filled.

“When we find or receive very young children who need our support, we do not have a dedicated place for them to stay. Either myself or other police officers take the babies home because they need food and special care,” Welansa explains. “Also, feeding the children who are in our care is a big issue, as there is no budget allocated for this.”

Adama is a big town, with a large population of children. Some come by themselves to seek work or a better quality of life, but many are brought by brokers and child traffickers. The Adama community is well aware of the CPU and, through their active engagement, children are brought in to be assisted by the Family Tracing and Reunification Services or social workers, and possibly directed to legal and/or medical aid.

“Presently, we have one boy in our care. He came from the Tigray Region with his older brother, who was depriving him of food and beating him. The young boy, who is about 11 years old, ran away and ended up alone on the streets,” the police officer continued. “He came to our unit and now we are helping to take him back to his family – that is his wish.”

Since the unit opened, they have helped around 570 children to reunite with their families.

Children in contact with the law are provided with a safe sleeping space and special treatment, without having to mix with adult offenders. Their parents are immediately contacted, and both the social worker and police officer (female officer) provide counselling and investigation. This results in a decision either for release into the care of their parents/guardians; referral to the community-based diversion programme or to present them to the child friendly bench. Psychosocial services, in the form of counselling, shelter, medical care etc, are provided to child victims and alleged offenders using the referral pathway that was made operational in the town with the support of UNICEF.

The next place visited by the team, accompanied by UNICEF staff members, was the OneStop Centre, located at the Adama Referral Hospital. The One Stop Centre was introduced in 2013 and aims to provide timely and comprehensive legal, medical and counselling services to survivors of violence, thereby minimising secondary victimisation. It also facilitates the proper collection and preservation of evidence, leading to improved rates of prosecution and conviction, and a reduction in the cycle time for finalising cases on violence against women and children (VAWC).The Centre was set up inside the premises of the Adama Referral Hospital in a secluded block, in order to maintain the privacy of beneficiaries. The Centre is staffed by four prosecutors and four female investigation police officers who work on a rotational basis. Clinical and counselling services are managed by a medical doctor, nurse and psychiatrist, who are deployed by the Hospital. The overall management of the Centre is entrusted to top level inter-agency team, comprising of representatives from the Regional Bureau of Justice; the Regional Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs; the Regional Bureau of Health; the Regional Supreme Court and the Regional Police Commission.

“This centre deals with about one to two cases per day and, by deploying female police officers, we prevent the victims from secondary victimisation,” explains Zewdu Mulugeta, prosecutor at the Bureau of Justice, Adama

One of the recent cases to come to this office was the attempted rape of a five-year-old girl. The perpetrator was given a 14-year prison sentence.

Equipped with new knowledge and insights about the functioning of the One-Stop Centre, the Danish diplomats were taken to the Adama High Court to visit the Child Friendly Benches (for both child victims and alleged child offenders). Here, Emebet Hailu, a social worker, explained the functioning of the Child-friendly Bench, which was established inside the premises of the Adama Zonal Court to adjudicate cases involving child victims and witnesses, as well as alleged child offenders. The initiative entails a specially designed and well-equipped courtroom, which hears cases involving child victims and witnesses of violence. This includes the added security of close-circuit cameras. The separate room is specially designed in a child-friendly setting, in order to put children at ease and provide testimony without facing the alleged perpetrator. The child sitting in the special room is assisted by an intermediary, transmitting the questions forwarded from the main courtroom to the child and the responses of the child are then transmitted back to the courtroom. The sessions are closed, with only a selected audience allowed to take part in the proceedings. The Child-friendly Bench aims to protect child and women victims of sexual violence from secondary victimisation during the judicial process and to enable them to give their testimonies freely and comfortably in a child-sensitive environment.

In the case of alleged child offenders, the child-friendly bench has a unique courtroom setting, which is adapted to simulate environments familiar to the children in schools and with families. Instead of the raised platform and assigned positions for judges, the prosecution and the accused, everyone sits around the same table. In addition to the child-friendly physical setting, the hearing process is managed in an informal and non-adversarial atmosphere, avoiding the use of technical language and the wearing of robes by judges, prosecutors and legal representatives.

Children who appear before the special bench and police units, and require family tracing, reunification and reintegration services are identified and referred to the Regional Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BOWCYA).

A child plays in child friendly bench in Adama high court

At the High Court, the visiting team met and discussed with the Vice-President of the Regional Supreme Court, the President of Adama High Court, the Adama University, who provide free legal aid, and the child friendly justice steering Committee. Mr Schønemann also had the opportunity to discuss with male and female litigants in the court. A father explained how the Court had helped him to gain custody over his three eldest children and that now he is trying to obtain custody over his youngest, who is under five years of age and still with the mother.

There was also the disheartening case of a woman, who came with her 17year-old daughter and new-born granddaughter. The daughter was raped by the landlord of her family home and gave birth to a child as a result. The perpetrator intimidated the girl not to implicate him within the incident. Both the mother and grandmother of the new-born child are terrified, but sued the perpetrator for the cost of a DNA test to prove that he is the father and therefore required to pay maintenance for his child. The DNA test is very costly – about ETB 3000 (US$ 180) for women. The family is poor and does not have the funds to pay for this. Through the service provided by the Court, they are now trying to put in an application for DNA testing.

The Ambassador thanked the Court staff and partners for their important work and addressed the questions raised on capacity development and additional resource allocation to bridge existing gaps and strengthen the child justice system.

As a result of UNICEF’s partnership with the Regional Supreme Court, the Regional Police Commission and the Regional Bureau of Justice, the Child Protection Unit (CPU) and the child friendly benches in Adama Town were further expanded into six other towns in the Oromia Region – Sabata, Sululta,Wolisso,Jimma, Nekemte and Ambo) in 2013. Presently, UNICEF is supporting seven zones in the Oromia Region; and, while this is a good start, the expansion of child friendly justice services into additional zonal and woreda (district) towns is recommended. In addition, UNICEF highlights that the next steps will focus on the provision of in-service training to newly assigned justice and social welfare personnel; the strengthening of legal aid services managed by the university legal aid clinic; the strengthening of the community based diversion facility and improvements to the child justice data management system.

Divergent Journeys – Child Marriage and Education

 By Indrias Getachew

Famia Abadir and Rasso Abdella are teenage girls living in Sheneni Village of Dujuma Kebele, located 20 kilometers outside of Dire Dawa town in Eastern Ethiopia. They both share dreams of attending university and working as professionals to advance the rights of girls and women. To succeed, however, they must overcome substantial hurdles. Poverty, traditional views on gender roles and the practice of child marriage threatens to derail their ambitions. Their experiences illustrate some of the challenges that girls, particularly in rural areas, face as they strive to achieve their right to an education.

“No one told me to go to school,” recalls Rasso. “I used to spend my time in the hills with my friends shepherding goats. Some of my friends went to school in the mornings. They would write what that they had learnt in school on stones using charcoal. They would write the alphabet and when they asked me what ‘A’ is, I didn’t know. I told them that I wanted to go to school but I couldn’t afford to buy books. They agreed to share their books with me. That is how I was able to start school. I now go up the mountain to collect wood and prepare charcoal. I then go to town and sell it so I can buy my exercise books – that is how I am able to go to school.”

Kerima Ali, Gender and AIDS Expert at the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education (left) Famia Abadir (midle) and Rasso Abdela (right)
Kerima Ali, Gender and AIDS Expert at the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education (left) Famia Abadir (midle) and Rasso Abdela (right) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014Getachew

Overcoming economic hurdles is a challenge facing rural girls in their efforts to learn, however, the age-old practice of child marriage complicates things further.

In 2011, the dire warning by a rural religious leader that girls who didn’t marry that year would not be able to marry for the next seven years, set off a spate of child marriages that resulted in over 80 girls marrying and dropping out of Dujuma Primary School. Famia, 15 at the time, was one of them.

“I was a young student, still a child,” recalls Famia. “I was going to study with my friends and my cousin told me to come to her place as the elders were gathering there because she was going to get married. She took me from my home and handed me over to her uncle’s son to get me married to him. I did not want to get married. My wish was to go to school and learn, but they abducted and raped me and that is considered marriage. I had no choice.”

Famia Abadir, nine months pregnant
Famia Abadir, nine months pregnant ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Getachew

Famia missed an entire year of school after she was abducted and raped, twice, in what turned out to be failed attempts to marry her against her will and the consent of her parents.

The events in Dujuma in 2011 led to a focused campaign of awareness creation and community mobilisation to end the practice of early marriage. Community discussions aimed at convincing community members about the importance of girls’ education were carried out throughout rural Dire Dawa. Awareness was also raised about the harm caused by child marriages with a view to fostering a consensus to end the practice.

Currently, school clubs are promoting gender equality and empowering the school community to respond in time to prevent child marriages through coordination with local government. Elders and religious leaders are also being engaged to convince the community to abandon the practice of early marriage.

According to local authorities, the efforts to end the practice of early marriage in Dujuma and other rural districts of the Dire Dawa Administrative Region have been successful. Indeed, Dire Dawa has the second lowest regional child marriage rate in Ethiopia after Addis Ababa. The practice is far more widespread in Amhara, Tigray and Benishangul Regions (EDHS 2011).

Transforming age-old customs, however, takes time. Returning to Dujuma in 2013, we found Famia to be nine months pregnant. Famia had left her husband and was once again living with her parents.

“After I give birth I will leave the baby with my family and return to my studies,” says Famia. “Getting married is what did this to me so it is better that I go back to school. Marriage was not good for me.”

Rasso, on the other hand, evaded all pressure to get married and was able to finish eighth grade at Dujuma Primary. Today, she is enrolled in high school in Dire Dawa town, living at the Girls’ Hostel set up by the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education with UNICEF’s support. The hostel enables girls from rural communities with no access to school to continue with their education.

Abduction survivor Gelane Degefa is clear where her priorities lay 

By Elshadai Negash

February 1st 2012 was supposed to be a regular school day for then-15 year old Gelane Degefa*. She started her day in Lugiatebela village, Sebeta Awas district, Oromia region, 25kms from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa; early by making a 30min journey to kick off the day with biology lessons in high school. Three more one-hour classes later, the school day was over and she was on her way home when she spotted a familiar, but disturbing sight from a distance.

“It was Kebede Chala,” she says of her neighbour who had dropped out of school a few years ago to work on his parents’ farm. “I knew immediately that I was in trouble.”

Kebede had persistently courted Degefa for more than 18 months before formally approaching her parents a year earlier to ask for her hand in marriage. “He used to say things like ‘what good would school be for you. I would provide you with everything if you marry me’,” she says. “I told him [Kebede] that I was too young to get married. My parents repeated the same thing when he asked them as well, but he refused to let go. My friends had overheard of his plans to abduct me. I told this to our headmaster. When he heard about this, he stopped bothering me for a while.”

A few minutes later, Kebede  and five of his friends grabbed her and tried their best to stifle her screams. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” she recalls. “But I was very fortunate. It was harvest collection season and some farmers heard my screams and came running to rescue me after we travelled for about 5km. When he and his friends were surrounded by the farmers, they ran away and I was able to escape.”

A Saudi returnee waits in the scorching heat to hop on a transport to take her back to her home area
Picture not related to story

But her aggressor did not stop then. “A few weeks later, he sent elders to my school to complain that we were preventing him from marrying Aleme,” says Beyene Kebede, Degefa’s Chemistry teacher. “Our school director reported this to the police. They gave us hope and told us to inform them if there are any incidents involving Mosisa. He did not bother her from then on and she has been attending school this year without any problems.”

Degefa was not the first girl Kebede tried to abduct and force into early marriage. “He tried to abduct my friend Mergia Abebe, a girl I personally worked hard to convince her parents to allow her to go to school,” says Degefa, who is a member of the Girls Club at her school. “Her parents tried to get marry her to Mosisa, but we worked very hard to convince her to change their mind. She was in the second grade then, now she is a top student and just earned top marks when progressing to grade six.”

By “we”, Degefa is talking about a youth club supported by UNICEF to assist highly vulnerable children and prevent the abduction of school girls. Part of a five-year joint programme with UNICEF and the United Nations Fund for Populations Activities (UNFPA) and funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy (RNE) to Ethiopia, the rights-based approach to adolescents and youth development in Ethiopia has worked to prevent girls like Degefa and Abebe from getting married early after abduction and in some cases stopped marriages after parents had agreed to marry to children to abductors.

“Abduction is a major harmful traditional practice in our area,” says Abegaz Tadesse, UNICEF/UNFPA Joint Programme coordinator in the Sebeta Awas district’s health office. “Many of the abductors are not prosecuted because it is expensive for the families to open and then follow a case to completion. What we are doing with this joint programme is strengthen the support to girls who go to school by using youth clubs to make them aware of their rights and quickly report any approaches by abductors.”

Shebere Telila* is another recipient of the support that youth clubs in the district’s schools provided. The 15-year old, who finished as a second best student in her class this year, was repeatedly approached by older boys who asked her mother for her hand in marriage. “I have dreams of growing up and becoming an engineer to build big buildings and large bridges,” she says. “Now is not the time for me to get married. My mother also knows this and would tell this to people who came to ask for marriage.”

One particular boy, however, did not heed to this and would even brag to her neighbours how he would wait for her one day when she returns from school and make her his. “Whenever someone in our neighbourhood told me about this, I would feel freightened,” she says. “My brother used to walk me to and from school for a while, but I knew that this could not be done forever.”

But rather than staying frightened, Telila, now a member of the youth club in her school; decided to confront her aggressor. “I went to our headmaster’s office with our class prefect to tell him everything,” she says. “Our headmaster then wrote a letter to our kebele [village] office and they instructed him to stop. They called him for a meeting and made him write a letter in front of his friends and family promising that he would not lay hands on me. When I saw that he signed the letter, I was relieved. On his face, I saw the same fear that he would put me through. I knew he would not defy his family and friends to do something to me. I knew I was a free person.”

Today, Telila makes the 30-minute commute from her home to school without any fear that a creepy teenager would emerge from the obscure mountains to attack her. At school, she takes time from studies to discuss her experience with younger girls and give them confidence on how to protect themselves. “Some of the members of our club have been victims and so we know the signs,” she says about the peer-assist mechanism in place at the youth club. “We also visit parents at home to encourage girls to come to school regularly and ask them not to marry their children at a young age.”

And what does she advise other girls who get approached by boys for early marriage?

“To be young and pretty is not a crime. Rather, being quiet when someone is pushing you to get married is the crime. Come out and tell everyone about your problems. Do not keep quiet until it is too late. Just do what I did and seek help. If you do, there is plenty of it available.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity of the girls.