UNICEF commits to speed up its efforts to end the violent practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) 

Addis Ababa, 06 February 2017 As the world observes International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), UNICEF Ethiopia commits to accelerate its efforts to end the violent practice of FGM/C through strengthened partnerships with key actors in support of the national theme, “Let us keep our promise and fulfil our commitment by ending FGM/C.”

“FGM/C is a harmful practice inflicted on girls which deprives them of their rights to sexual and reproductive health, endangers their health by causing complications during delivery and even untimely death,” said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “In order to fast-track the elimination of the practice once and for all, we need to work at grass roots level, at scale and hand in hand with communities – boys and girls, women and men, and most importantly, traditional and religious leaders who are influential communicators with the potential to reach the hearts and minds of millions of people. We also believe that it is equally important to address health and psychological complications caused by FGM/C- by providing the necessary health services for survivors to help them lead a healthy life.” 

According to the 2016 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS), FGM/C among the age group of 15-49 is most prevalent among the ethnic groups of Afar and Somali regions (98 per cent and 99 percent, respectively), followed by Welaita and Hadiya (92 per cent for both). In addition, 54 per cent of urban women have experienced FGM/C as compared to 68 per cent in rural areas. FGM/C is less prevalent among women with higher education and those in the highest wealth quintile. The 2016 EDHS shows a decreasing trend in FGM/C nationwide with the prevalence in 15-19 year olds down to 47 per cent as compared to 65 per cent in the 15-49 age group.

UNICEF supports the Government’s efforts through enhancing capacity to implement both preventive and responsive programmes at scale, and strengthening coordination mechanisms at different levels. UNICEF works with the National Alliance to progress ongoing roadmap development to end FGM/C and Child Marriage. It also, supports the involvement of faith based, traditional and community leaders, as communities usually link this harmful traditional practice to cultural and religious norms. In this regard, UNICEF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in August 2016 with major religious institutions in the country to improve the lives of children, women and adolescents by promoting positive behaviour and social norms and to bring about the necessary societal shifts in communities.

UNICEF supports the Government in the health sector in the Afar and Somali regions to address FGM/C related complications by providing training to health workers; raising the communities’ awareness on health risks caused by FGM/C; identifying girls and women affected by FGM/C; developing training materials; recruiting gynaecologists and equipping selected hospitals with basic FGM/C care equipment.

Italy supports vital events registration in Ethiopia

The Italian Government funds UNICEF with Euro 500,000 to UNICEF to strengthen vital events registration system in Oromia and SNNP regions

ADDIS ABABA, 7 December 2016 – The Italian Agency for Development Cooperation funded UNICEF with a total contribution of €500,000 to strengthen the civil registration system for children’s rights to identify in two regions of Ethiopia: Oromia and SNNPR, in collaboration with the respective regional Vital Events Registration Agencies (VERAs). 

The support is crucial as it represents the preliminary condition towards the creation of a fully functional civil and vital registration system of birth, death, marriage and divorce. The funding aims to improve and standardize the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system and contribute to children’s right to identity to protect them from abuse and exploitation, as well as ensure their access to basic services.

Financial contribution signing ceremony between Italy and UNICEF.

The support comes at a critical time in light of Ethiopia’s creation of a fully functional nationwide civil and vital registration system of birth, death, marriage and divorce in August.

The funding aims to improve and standardize the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system and help protect children from abuse and exploitation, as well as ensure their access to basic services.

In addition, vital events registration is an important pre-requisite for measuring equity, monitoring trends, and evaluating the impact and outcomes of broader development programmes, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At the signing ceremony, the Ambassador of Italy to Ethiopia, H.E. Giuseppe Mistretta stated that “the registration of birth represents the first step towards the recognition of an individual within a society, allowing him or her to access to basic services and protect him or her from abuses and violence. Avoiding anonymity and invisibility, birth registration sets the basis for an efficient planning of the governmental policies and strategies of good governance”.

“All our current and upcoming projects of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation in Ethiopia are aligned with the priorities and strategies set by the Government of Ethiopia. This initiative’s  objectives are also expressed by the Proclamation on Vital Events Registration and National ID (Proclamation No. 760/2012), adopted in August 2012. Coherently with the government strategy, the initiative we are signing today aims at improving the institutional and technical capacity of Regional Vital Events Registration Agency (RVERA) in Oromia and SNNPR to effectively lead and coordinate the registration of vital events” said Ms. Ginevra Letizia, Head of the Addis Ababa Office of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation.  

Ethiopia has one of lowest levels of birth registration in the world at just 7 per cent. With the new system, however, registration of vital events in Ethiopia has been modernized. From regional up to federal and city level administration, UNICEF is supporting standardisation of registration and certification services, which has been officially launched nationwide.

“UNICEF appreciates the timely contribution from the Italian Government to count every child, and in the process, to make every child count. With proof of age and identity, we can protect every child from diverse child protection concerns including abuse, neglect and exploitation, early marriage, child labour and trafficking, and help them to access basic social services, including education and health,” said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. 

Providing gynaecological services to Ethiopian women scarred by FGM/C

By Endale Engida

AYSSAITA, AFAR REGION, 24 November 2016 – Asiya’s marriage was meant to be a joyful occasion, but on her wedding night, this 18-year-old found only pain.

Like nearly all young girls in Ethiopia’s Afar Region, she had undergone Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) at a very young age and trying to consummate the marriage with her husband brought only pain and bleeding.

In the Afar region, a particularly severe form of FGM/C known as Type III or infibulation is practiced whereby the vaginal opening is partially sewn shut, condemning generations of women to pain.

Asiya’s husband, Burhan Helen, was determined to help his wife and he asked around and discovered that the hospital in their woreda (district) had recently set up a gynaecological unit specialized in opening up women who had been subjected to infibulation.

Female Genital Mutilation in Afar
“FGM should stop, I have seen the problem myself, I always struggle when I am on my period, my period doesn’t flow normally so it was very painful. I won’t cut my future daughter. I am very happy to have gone through surgery and I am thankful for the organization working on this.” – Asiya Ali, 18, undergone FGM and currently following up at Ayssaita primary hospital, Afar region, after her surgery. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

FGM/C has long been outlawed in Ethiopia, but is still widespread in the country with an estimated 65 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 (EDHS 2016) having been cut – down from 74 per cent in 2005 EDHA

However, those numbers mask regional variations. In regions like Afar and the Somali it can reach up to 90 per cent while other areas have a much lower prevalence due to different cultural norms in the diverse nation of Ethiopia.

In regions where it is practiced across eastern Africa and up into Egypt, it is believed FGM/C is necessary to ensure a woman stays a virgin before marriage, and many men say they would not marry a woman who hasn’t been cut.

In 2014, the Government of Ethiopia committed to ending the practice by 2025 and has been working on discouraging it through public information campaigns. Penalties for carrying it out range from three to ten years in prison.

For those like Asiya who have already undergone the procedure, the new gynaecological unit established in May 2016 at the Ayssaita Woreda hospital is a life saver.

Female Genital Mutilation in Afar
Dr. Hatse Abrha is a gynaecologist at Ayssaita primary hospital, Afar region. Dr. Hatse Abrha has been assisting girls and women with health complications due to FGM, a project under UNICEF Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tadesse

Thanks to the funds from Foundation Espoir through the Luxembourg Committee for UNICEF, the hospital now employs Dr. Hatse Abreha, the only gynaecologist in the hospital.

The hospital, which serves a mostly pastoral population of 90,000, can now treat gynaecological and obstetric cases, including FGM/C reconstructions. By October 2016, the hospital was treating 200 FGM/C cases a month. In many cases, patients can be discharged the same day after the surgery.

Dr. Abreha diagnosed Asiya’s condition and also noted that in addition to pain during intercourse, she suffered discomfort and slow flow during menstruation. She and her husband were counselled about the procedure and then she received the deinfibulation surgery.

“I want to see these innocent girls and women no longer be victims of FGM/C, though these kind of interventions are only part of the solution and will not solve the root cause of the problem,” he said.

After a careful period of outpatient monitoring, Asiya was pronounced cured.

“We have special gratitude to Dr. Hatse Abreha for his friendly care and follow up,” she said during a follow up visit. “We are here to teach our community not to practice FGM/C on their girls and our own children will not be victims of FGM/C.”

 

Ensuring every child is accounted for and no one is left behind in Ethiopia

By Hannah Godefa

On August 6th, I was fortunate to be a part of a campaign in Ethiopia when the establishment of the Vital Events Registration Agency (VERA) kicked off throughout the country.

VERA is an incredibly important institution for individuals, societies and government. For individuals, registration can be used as legal documents and proof for identification purposes. Information complied from these areas are then needed for admin applications like public health programmes and the electoral roll.

On the first day of the campaign, I visited the Gulele Sub City, Woreda 9 VERA team. UNICEF supports the campaign to ensure all resources needed for registration like registry, certificates, awareness creation, materials and logistics make it to all regions, all the way to the lowest levels of administration.

Vital events registration kicks off in Ethiopia

This process is incredibly important because it will ensure that every child will be accounted from the earliest days of life. This means big advancements for accountability when it comes to harmful traditional practices including child marriage, as every individual will have a marriage certificate with the new system from VERA. It will also make it easier for government, non-profit and civil society partners to identify when these practices are occurring.

Birth registration is the first recognition of a child’s existence by the state. Where births remain unregistered, there is an implication that these children are not recognized as persons before the law. The absence of the system of birth registration results in the violation of children’s rights to name and nationality; to protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation, including early marriage, child labour  and trafficking; to basic social services, including education and health; and the personal rights of orphans and other vulnerable children.

Currently, birth, death, marriage and divorce will be kept recorded from the kebele civil status office to the federal level, so that there is less room for discrepancies and human rights crime.

Participating in the registration process was an incredibly humbling and powerful experience for me, and I am very excited to see how UNICEF will work with VERA and local partners to ensure that every child is accounted for, and no one is left behind.

Girls spend 160 million more hours than boys doing household chores everyday – UNICEF 

 NEW YORK/ ADDIS ABABA, 7 October, 2016 – Girls between 5 and 14 years old spend 40 per cent more time, or 160 million more hours a day, on unpaid household chores and collecting water and firewood compared to boys their age, according to a report released by UNICEF ahead of International Day of the Girl on 11 October.

Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls: Taking stock and looking ahead to 2030 includes the first global estimates on the time girls spend doing household chores such as cooking, cleaning, caring for family members and collecting water and firewood.

The data show that the disproportionate burden of domestic work begins early, with girls between 5 and 9 years old spending 30 per cent more time, or 40 million more hours a day, on household chores than boys their age. The numbers rise as girls get older, with 10 to 14 year olds spending 50 per cent more time, or 120 million more hours each day.   

“The overburden of unpaid household work begins in early childhood and intensifies as girls reach adolescence,” said UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor Anju Malhotra.  “As a result, girls sacrifice important opportunities to learn, grow, and just enjoy their childhood. This unequal distribution of labour among children also perpetuates gender stereotypes and the double-burden on women and girls across generations.”

The report notes that girls’ work is less visible and often undervalued. Too often adult responsibilities such as caring for family members, including other children, are imposed on girls. Time spent on chores limits a girl’s time to play, socialize with friends, study and be a child. In some countries, collecting firewood and water puts girls at risk of sexual violence.

The report also found that:

  • Girls between 10 and 14 years old in South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa spend nearly double the amount of time on household chores compared to boys.
  • The countries where girls between 10 and 14 years old bear the most disproportionate burden of household chores compared to boys are; Burkina Faso, Yemen and Somalia.
  • 10 to 14 year-old girls in Somalia spend the most amount of time on household chores in total: 26 hours every week. 

“Quantifying the challenges girls face is the first critical step towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and breaking-down barriers that confront the world’s 1.1 billion girls,” said UNICEF Chief of Data and Analytics Attila Hancioglu.

Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls: Taking stock and looking ahead to 2030 notes that data for two thirds of the 44 girl-related indicators in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the global roadmap to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all – are either limited or poor. In addition to household chores, the report presents data on girl-related issues addressed by the SDGs including violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation and education. Achieving the SDGs that address these issues and empowering girls with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to reach their full potential, is not only good for girls, but can drive economic growth, promote peace and reduce poverty

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In Ethiopia, girls face a multiplicity of social and structural barriers in all the developmental domains hindering their capacity to seize opportunities and make strategic life choices that will enable them realize their full potential.  The limited age and gender disaggregated data and evidence available in the country shades light to some of these challenges. For example, girls carry a heavy burden of household chores and fall behind their class and unable to follow their education.

Female children under age 15 are about three times more likely than male children to fetch drinking water (EDHS: 2011) http://www.unicef.org/ethiopia/ET_2011_EDHS.pdf

In addition, forty one percent of women aged 20-24 were married by the age of 18 (EDHS: 2011). Girls age 0-14 are exposed to FGM/C with prevalence as high as 60 per cent in the Afar region (Welfare Monitoring Survey: 2011).

In its recently adopted country programme strategy (2016-2020), UNICEF has incorporated an outcome on adolescent girls’ and has developed a girls’ strategy to strengthen the efforts of the Government of Ethiopia to empower girls and free them from child marriage and FGM/C by 2025.   

After a harrowing journey, a bittersweet homecoming for Ethiopian migrant children

By Christine Yohannes

ADDIS ABABA, 29 June 2016–One year ago, 14-year-old Tesfaye* set off from his hometown of Hadiya in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia towards South Africa. Like many young people, Tesfaye sought what he thought would be a brighter future abroad.

Unfortunately for Tesfaye, his journey came to an abrupt halt after one month when he was arrested in Zambia. Along with 39 other Ethiopian children, he was charged under the Anti-Human Trafficking Act that prescribes a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years for smuggling or consenting to be smuggled.

UNICEF- IOM partnership assisted voluntary returning children to Ethiopia
Tesfaye 15 and one of the youngest from the returnees is slowly readjusting to the possibility of reuniting with the family he had decided to leave behind. He is now finding relief in the piece of paper as he draws and writes his past struggles to be a living example to his peers who would consider a similar escape. UNICEF in collaboration with IOM returns children from third countries. Which is facilitated through a Cooperation Agreement signed between the two agencies since 2013 and renewed in 2016. This collaboration supports the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) Safe Return and Reunification Programme for Unaccompanied and Migrant Children. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tsegaye

Although he was not yet 15 at the time, Tesfaye was tried as a 23-year-old because of the eight-year difference between Gregorian calendar used in most of the world, including Zambia, and the Julian calendar used in Ethiopia. Tesfaye was unable to explain the situation due to his limited English and was subsequently convicted and jailed in Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison in Kabwe, which houses adult criminal offenders,along with other children who had been detained.

A long  journey

In response to news of this detainment, UNICEF and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) worked together with the Zambian Human Rights Commission and Zambian officials to get the children released from prison and sent home. Following high level advocacy and personal commitment from IOM and UNICEF staff members, all 39 children were pardoned by the Zambian President.

IOM Zambia provided support to the Zambian authorities to ensure that protection assistance, including safe shelter and medical assistance was provided to all children once they were released from prison. Their first stop for these children once in Ethiopia is the IOM Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) Transit Centre, which is operated in close collaboration with UNICEF and the Government of Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa. The centre receives some 100 to 200 unaccompanied minors every month who have returned from other transit or destination countries.

UNICEF supports the Ethiopian Bureau of Women and Children Affairs with trained social workers to conduct documentation, family identification and reunification of the children. The social workers provide psychosocial support services at the transit center and accompany the children to their families, where they also provide a reunification grant to each child’s family.

Although Tesfaye is now safe in the IOM Transit Centre, he will not soon forget the ordeal he went through. He says, “I want to teach and raise awareness for others that might try to do this,” adding, “It should stop with me!”

Dreams cut short

Jacky* 17, also from Hadiya, was a straight-A student with big dreams for his future when he left home in search of better opportunities. “I do not blame my country for my decision to leave and for trying my luck in South Africa,” he says.

He recalls 25 days of travelling on foot, his subsequent arrest and confinement in a prison room shared with over 200 other detainees, going days without food and enduring brutality and theft.

“I sold my cow and my inherited share of my father’s land to pay for my trip, only to be arrested a 120km from my destination,” said Jacky. “I had high hopes for my future in South Africa but being exposed to deadly diseases in prison made me realize that it is worth striving for a better life in my own country.”

Home at last

UNICEF- IOM partnership assisted voluntary returning children to Ethiopia
UNICEF in collaboration with IOM returns children from third countries. Which is facilitated through a Cooperation Agreement signed between the two agencies since 2013 and renewed in 2016. This collaboration supports the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) Safe Return and Reunification Programme for Unaccompanied and Migrant Children. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tsegaye

Harrowing as their stories are, at least Tesfaye and Jacky are home at last. Some children remain in Kabwe as they had come of age while in prison. The Zambian Human Rights Commission , with support from UNICEFand IOM, continues to work to enable the release of these children and their return to Ethiopia.

Going forward, UNICEF, in partnership with IOM, will support the Child Justice Forum and the Zambian Human Rights Commission to prevent this from happening to other children in the future. UNICEF will also extend its support by monitoring prisons and police cells to identify and help children in similar situations as there are reports of more smuggled and trafficked children; eight more children await trial on a similar accusation.

“I cannot say I have come [home] when half of me [more children] is still in prison” Jacky continued “ I have learned from my mistakes, so I would like to teach everyone about creating jobs in our lands.”

*Names of the children have been changed to protect their privacy

Ethiopia: Vital events registration launched

By Nikodimos Alemayehu and Marie Angeline Aquino

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia. August 2016 – Ethiopia launched throughout the country on 4 August 2016 a permanent, compulsory and universal registration and certification of vital events such as birth, death, marriage and divorce.

Vital events registration kicks off in Ethiopia
(L-R) Ms. Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia , H.E Ms Elsa Tesfaye, Director General of Vital Events Registration Agency (VERA), H.E Dr Mulatu Teshome, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and H.E Mr Getachew Ambaye, Attorney General holds a symbolic certificate for birth registration. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

The inauguration ceremony took place in the presence of the Ethiopian President Dr Mulatu Teshome, UNICEF Representative Gillian Mellsop as well as representatives of other ministries and development partners.

“The Government of Ethiopia has given great emphasis to vital events registration across the country by putting the appropriate policies in place, establishing a system up to the lowest administrative level and deploying massive resources in this endeavor,” said Teshome at the ceremony. “I am confident that, with the collaboration and commitment of all stakeholders, we will succeed in the operationalization of the system, just like we have succeeded in other development sectors in the country.”

Mellsop underscored in her address the importance of the registry in protecting children and combatting child trafficking.

‘’With no proof of age and identity, Ethiopian children become a more attractive ‘commodity’ to a child trafficker, and will not even have the minimal protection that a birth certificate provides against early marriage, child labour, or detention and prosecution of the child as an adult.”

Ethiopia ranks among the lowest in sub-Saharan countries on birth registration with less than 10 per cent of children under the age of 5 with their births registered.

The issue is especially urgent because 48 per cent of the 92 million-strong population is under the age of 18 – 90 per cent of whom are unregistered. The Government has committed itself to reaching at least 50 per cent of children with registration and certification services over the next two years.

UNICEF’s support to Ethiopia’s national civil registration is based on a recognition that birth registration is an important element of ensuring the rights and protection of children.

For children, being registered at birth is key to other rights such as access to basic social services, protection, nationality and later the full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote. Moreover, not only is vital events registration essential for compiling statistics that are required to develop policies and implement social services, it is also, as Mellsop points out, “a pre-requisite in measuring equity; for monitoring trends such as child mortality, maternal health and gender equality.”

Inaugural ceremony of National Vital Events Registration in SNNPR capital Hawassa
One-month child Samrawit at a birth registration centre in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) capital Hawassa August 6, 2016. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

UNICEF has supported the Government in putting in place a decentralized registration and certification system, which is informed by a legislative framework promulgated in August 2012.

UNICEF is a catalyst in creating this new system with support that includes the reform of the legislative framework, the development of a national strategy and its implementation across the country.

An important element of the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system is its interoperability with the health sector. On this aspect, UNICEF has worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Health in its efforts to formalize the interoperability, culminating in the signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two ministries.

The important of involving the Health Ministry is because it already has its own well organized and decentralized network stretching across the country. This arrangement allows the health facilities found in nearly every community to manage notifications of births and deaths.

The actual registration and certification of all vital events started on 6 August 2016 at the lowest administrative level of the kebele (sub-district).

With Ethiopia’s new conventional vital events registration system in place, there are better opportunities for accelerating vital events registration in Ethiopia, and realizing one of the fundamental rights of children – the right to be registered upon birth.