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.
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).
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.