First Ever Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Day Observed in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 21st August 2018: As Ethiopia enters the third year of rolling out a comprehensive civil and vital events registration system, which includes birth registration, the government and its partners gathered on 18th August to commemorate the first ever civil registration and vital statics day.

Beyond the usual fanfare that accompanies these events, the day was an opportune moment to reflect on the progress the country has made since the comprehensive vital events registration system was launched in 2016.

In his opening remarks, the President of Ethiopia Dr. Mulatu Teshome said the vital events registration system was important as it enabled citizens to demand their constitutional rights and obtain comprehensive social and economic services. It also enabled the government to design laws, policies and strategies with concrete evidence and ensure their enforcement.

Commemorated under the theme universal, permanent and continuous civil registration and vital statistics system for good governance and better lives, the event was held to raise public awareness about the importance of registering vital life events such as births, marriages, and deaths.

“As we embark on the third year, we can see that more than 18 per cent of children under one year of age are now registered with civil authorities, up from only 3 per cent in 2016,” said UNICEF Acting Representative Shalini Bahuguna.

Birth Registration Programme in Dodota woreda/district of Arsi zone, Oromia region
“Gemechu has a birth certificate” Gemechu’s parents, Bedaso Rago and his mother Ayati Kumbi, Awash Bishola Kebele, Oromia region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Martha Tadesse

Ethiopia did not have a comprehensive vital events and civil registration system before 2016, as a result of which only three per cent of children under the age of five had their births registered with civil authorities and two in three of these children had a birth certificate. However, following the enactment of the Council of Ministers regulation to establish the Federal Vital Events Registration Agency (FVERA) and the national identity proclamation in 2012, a system for coordinating and supporting the registration of vital events registration was launched in July 2016.

Since then, 19,351 registration offices have been established across the country out of which 17,042 are providing vital events registration and certification services. Within this period, 965,457 births, 208,637 marriages, 8,089 divorces, 178,559 deaths, and 565 adoptions have been registered.

Key supporters of this programme who have channelled their support through UNICEF include the European Union via the Netherlands embassy (€4m) and Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (€1.5m). Other partners providing their support directly to FVERA include the World Bank (USD 15 million), UNHCR (computers, printers and laptops), Economic Commission for Africa and Plan International (technical support and capacity building), World Vision (media advocacy) and UNFPA and WHO (costing of the strategic plan).

Birth registration rates can be accelerated if bottlenecks such as the requirement that both mother and father should be present at the time the birth certificate is being issued are removed and if the first copy of the certificate is issued without a fee. Despite Ethiopia’s progress in expanding the system to cover 88 per cent of the country and improving rates of registration, most of the population, particularly in socially and economically disadvantaged areas, have neither heard about vital events registration nor understood its relevance. Thus, creating more awareness about the system and generating demand for its services remains a key focus of the programme.

 

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.

Survivors of FGM facilitate discussions to end the practice

By Martha Tadesse

Fatuma learned about the impacts of FGM/C after her first delivery and refused to have her daughters go through the same procedure.

Chifra, Afar, 23 January 2018 – “I had severe period pain, and my labour was a life and death situation,” says Fatuma Abdu, 28, who had undergone Type III FGM/C as a child. Fatuma has two daughters, a 4–year-old and a 20-months-old.

She recalls her first pregnancy experience saying, “I was very weak during my first pregnancy. I was in labour for 24 hours before they took me to the hospital. I gave birth at the hospital. However, because of our tradition, I have stitched again. My menstrual cycle pain was agonizing. I got pregnant again, and it was worse than my first experience. I was in labour for three days until I was unconscious and found myself at Mille Maternity hospital.

The doctor told me I would have suffered from fistula had I stayed home longer than that. I had a stillbirth.  I was physically and emotionally hurt. My third pregnancy was much better because of the surgery at the hospital.”

Zahara Mohammod, 28 discusses about FGM/C with “Unmarried Adolescent Girls’ Club” at Mille Woreda, Afar. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2018/Tadesse

Fatuma learned about the impacts of FGM/C after her first delivery and refused to have her daughters go through the same procedure. She explains how it was difficult to convince her husband on her decision saying, because “The day I went through all that because of my FGM/C procedure was the same day I made that decision. My husband disagreed because we had always thought we were right to practice FGM/C. Mind you, even though he knew how much I have suffered, he still could not make up his mind. I told him I would sue anyone who would touch my daughters and that was it.”

The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme has been working in collaboration with Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA) to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C in Afar region since November 2008. During the implementation of its first phase that ended in 2013, the programme targeted six districts out of the 32 districts in the region, which have declared abandonment of FGM/C presently.

According to the assessment made at the end of this first phase, the programme has resulted in substantial changes in belief and practice of FGM/C in target districts, with a practice decline from 90 per cent in 2008 to 39 per cent after five years of intervention. The second phase of the programme is currently implementing social mobilization interventions in three districts with the aim of improving community knowledge, attitude and practice. The programme heavily focuses on the engagement of community and religious leaders who are the most influential persons in the community. Additionally, the programme promotes community conversations through various discussion groups to create awareness and empower community members for a lasting change.

Fatuma is among the trainers who have been selected to facilitate discussion groups in their communities. The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme has trained 176 facilitators for community conversation and dialogue from 3 districts on FGM/C and early marriage. This community conversation and dialogue on FGM/C is inclusive of girls, boys, men, women, and the youth in the community.

“I hope everyone listens to our suffering and refuses to undergo the FGM/C procedure.”

Sharing her experiences with the training, Fatuma states, “The training was such an eye-opener. I was challenged regarding my wrong beliefs, and it helped me speak up for others.”

According to Sheikh Mohammod Dersa, President of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council in Afar, the FGM/C intervention by UNFPA-UNICEF has brought a behavioural change in the community.

He states, “We are grateful for what UNFPA and UNICEF have done in our region. We have been working with them hand in hand. But, we still need to work harder, because the issue is deeply rooted in social and religious norms. Social norms are powerful. We need to know that this is a generational issue, as well. It takes a lot of effort and collaboration to challenge communities and achieve the goal of ending FGM/C. We are always ready to teach our community, and we hope the programme continues and expands to other districts.”

25 million child marriages prevented in last decade due to accelerated progress, according to new UNICEF estimates

 Improving trend in child marriage driven largely by significant reductions in South Asia, but problem persists with over 150 million girls likely to marry by 2030

 NEW YORK/ADDIS ABABA, 6 March 2018 – The prevalence of child marriage is decreasing globally with several countries seeing significant reductions in recent years, UNICEF said today. Overall, the proportion of women who were married as children decreased by 15 per cent in the last decade, from 1 in 4 to approximately 1 in 5.

South Asia has witnessed the largest decline in child marriage worldwide in the last 10 years, as a girl’s risk of marrying before her 18th birthday has dropped by more than a third, from nearly 50 per cent to 30 per cent, in large part due to progress in India. Increasing rates of girls’ education, proactive government investments in adolescent girls, and strong public messaging around the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes are among the reasons for the shift.

“When a girl is forced to marry as a child, she faces immediate and lifelong consequences. Her odds of finishing school decrease while her odds of being abused by her husband and suffering complications during pregnancy increase. There are also huge societal consequences and higher risk of intergenerational cycles of poverty,” said Anju Malhotra, UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor. “Given the life-altering impact child marriage has on a young girl’s life, any reduction is welcome news, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

According to new data from UNICEF, the total number of girls married in childhood is now estimated at 12 million a year. The new figures point to an accumulated global reduction of 25 million fewer marriages than would have been anticipated under global levels 10 years ago. However, to end the practice by 2030 – the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals – progress must be significantly accelerated. Without further acceleration, more than 150 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.

Worldwide, an estimated 650 million women alive today were married as children. While South Asia has led the way on reducing child marriage over the last decade, the global burden of child marriage is shifting to sub-Saharan Africa, where rates of progress need to be scaled up dramatically to offset population growth. Of the most recently married child brides, close to 1 in 3 are now in sub-Saharan Africa, compared to 1 in 5 a decade ago.

New data also point to the possibility of progress on the African continent. In Ethiopia – once among the top five countries for child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa – the prevalence has dropped by a third in the last 10 years.

“Each and every child marriage prevented gives another girl the chance to fulfill her potential,” said Malhotra. “But given the world has pledged to end child marriage by 2030, we’re going to have to collectively redouble efforts to prevent millions of girls from having their childhoods stolen through this devastating practice.”

UNICEF and UNFPA to speed up their efforts to end the violent practice of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Addis Ababa, 06 February 2018 As the world observes International Day of Zero Tolerance on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), UNICEF and UNFPA in Ethiopia commit to accelerate their joint efforts to end the violent practice of FGM/C.

Given the rising number of girls at risk, the two agencies believe that with increased investment and redoubled political commitment, with greater community engagement and more empowered women and girls, it is a race that can be won.

The Sustainable Development Goals recognize that female genital mutilation undermines progress towards a more equal, just, and prosperous world. They set an ambitious target of eliminating all such harmful practices against girls and women by 2030.  UNICEF and UNFPA globally devoted the theme of the year 2018 – “Ending Female Genital Mutilation is a political decision” – to engaging government bodies and policy makers to join efforts.

In Ethiopia, the Government expressed its commitment to ending FGM/C and child marriage by the year 2025 at the London Girls’ Summit in 2014 and committed itself to reducing the practice to 0.5 per cent by 2020 in the Growth and Transformation Plan. The Government has also taken key programmatic actions which include  endorsement of the National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children as well as establishment of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C. 

“To accelerate the elimination of the practice , we need to work at grassroots level, at scale and hand-in-hand with communities – boys and girls, women and men, and most importantly, traditional and religious leaders –  to reach the hearts and minds of millions of people,” said UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Gillian Mellsop. “We also believe that it is important to address the health and psychological complications caused by FGM/C by providing the necessary health services to help survivors lead a healthy life,” she said.

“We have seen that rates of female genital mutilation can drop rapidly in places where the issue is taken on wholeheartedly by governments, by communities, by families. Where social norms are confronted, village by village. Where medical professionals come together to oppose the practice, where laws are enacted to make it a crime and where those laws are enforced. Where wider access to health, education and legal services ensure sustainable change. Where girls and women are protected and empowered to make their voices heard,” said Ms. Bettina Maas, UNFPA representative to Ethiopia.

The 2016 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey shows a declining  trend in FGM/C from 74 per cent in 2005 to 65 per cent in 2015  in the age group 15-49 years, and from 62.1 per cent to 47 per cent  in the 15-19 year old age group. The survey also shows a more significant decrease in the younger age cohort compared to the older: prevalence is 75 per cent in the age group 35-49 years, 59 per cent in the 20-24 year age group, and 47 per cent in the age group 15-19 years. FGM/C prevention and care Afar

UNICEF and UNFPA have been working  together for many years in Ethiopia on programmes to end FGM/C. One such programme is in the Afar Region which has recently been expanded to the SNNP region. The programme has a social mobilization component which aims to increase community knowledge and change attitudes towards the practice through religious and clan leaders as well as youth and adolescent girls who convene community dialogues. Tailored messages through radio and television also reach a wider audience.

UNICEF and UNFPA also work together to improve enforcement of the law through increasing legal literacy, strengthening special units in the law enforcement bodies, and supporting community level surveillance in tracking cases of FGM/C for better reporting and management of cases. The programme has facilitated the declaration of abandonment of the practice in 6 districts in Afar Region. 

Globally, the prevalence of FGM/C has declined by nearly a quarter since around 2000. In countries where UNFPA and UNICEF work jointly to end female genital mutilation, girls are one third less likely to undergo this harmful practice today than they were in 1997. More than 25 million people in some 18,000 communities across 15 countries have publicly disavowed the practice since 2008.

FGM/C survivors teach communities to end the practice in Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

“I used to believe 12 years ago that FGM/C is a mandatory requirement in our religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

Mille, Afar, 23 January 2018 – “My labor took two nights and a day. I was in so much pain. It was a very painful experience and most of all, I was a child myself.” says Kedija Mohammod, a mother of three children (ages 12, 8 and 5).

Kedija learned about the harmful effects of FGM/C through community conversations supported by the UNICEF-UNFPA Joint Programme, in partnership with Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA), to accelerate the abandonment of FGM/C in the Afar region.

FGM/C or locally known as KetnterKeltti, the removal of some or all of the external female genitalia, is a highly prevalent traditional practice in Ethiopia that has a multi-dimensional impact on the lives of girls and women.

According to Ethiopia and Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) 2016, FGM/C rate in Afar is 91 per cent for ages of 15-49, placing it among the highest prevalent regions in the country next to Somali. Moreover, the region practices Type III infibulation, which is the most severe form of FGM/C characterized by the total elimination of the external female genitalia and stitching, leaving a small opening for urination.

“No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

The UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme, which was launched in November 2008, promotes community-led discussions on harmful practices like FGM/C in which communities are empowered to progress toward collective abandonment.

The programme targets 9 districts (3 in zone 1 and 6 in zone 3) in the Afar region, each having multiple sub-districts. A total of 60 trainers were trained for married and unmarried adolescent girls from these districts and they are trained on harmful practices and menstrual hygiene in order to lead various discussion groups in their communities. These married and unmarried adolescent girls’ clubs aim to facilitate sustained awareness.

FGM/C prevention and care Afar
Zahara Mohammod, 28 discusses about FGM/C with “Unmarried Adolescent Girls’ Club” at Mille Woreda, Afar. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2018/Tadesse

Zahara Mohammod, one of the trainers in Mille Woreda, testifies that the programme has brought a huge difference in the community. She says, “People used to think that FGM/C is required by the Quran, but the programme has raised awareness among the community on the lack of direct link between the practice and religion. People are now listening and most have changed their stance. Women used to give birth in their houses, and we have lost many due to prolonged labor. But now, the Barbra May Maternity Hospital is a few minutes away from our village, so women go to the hospital for delivery and treatment. This is happening because of community conversations and girls’ club discussions in our villages.”

Kedija, an FGM/C survivor herself, regrets having made her daughter go through the same procedure. She says, “I used to think 12 years ago that FGM/C is mandatory and a requirement in my religion Islam. I was doing what every mother did back then.”

However, Kedija is now teaching her community and sharing her experience. “ I have been working with the community for two years now and the change motivates me to do even more. People used to mock me at first because FGM/C is considered as a religious practice, but many have changed their attitude and are thankful for our discussions now. I have never thought FGM/C could have consequences like mental and emotional damage until I had my first intercourse with my husband. No one should go through what we Afar women have gone through. I can’t even explain the pain.”

While talking about her daughter, Kedija says, “I have shared my experience with my daughter. She is aware of the consequences. My daughter is now in grade 7. I will not marry her off to anyone out of her will. She will get married when she finishes her education. I hope she will marry an educated man who can take care of her and take her to the hospital during her labor.”

According to Seada Moahmmod, at BoWCA, these discussions have been increasing awareness and openly challenging community perspectives towards FGM/C. She says, “The community’s awareness has improved a lot, and people discuss openly about the practice. They used to think that exposing stories would lead them to discrimination, but cases are now exposed to local enforcement bodies.  Many households have already rejected FGM/C. It is quite a success.”

While positive outcomes have certainly been observed in the districts, Zahra Humed, Head BoWCA of the region, says, “The outcome of the programme has been very rewarding and the behavioral change we have attained is wonderful. However, we still need to continue working until all districts abandon the practice once and for all. ”

Italy and UNICEF sign the agreement for the second phase of the “vital events registration project”.

ADDIS ABABA, 6 December 2017: Italy and UNICEF signed today a financing agreement for the project “Strengthening the Civil Registration System for Children’s Right to Identity: Identification for Development – ID – Second Phasefor an amount of one million Euros.

The first phase of the project is currently under implementation in 50% of the Woredas and Kebeles of Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ (SNNP) regions. The second phase, which is funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for a period of 12 months, will cover the remaining 50% of the Woredas and Kebeles of Oromia and SNNP Regional States.

The agreement signed today by the Italian Ambassador Arturo Luzzi, the UNICEF Representative, Ms. Gillian Mellsop and the Director of the Addis Ababa Office of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, Ms. Ginevra Letizia, will implement strategic activities aimed at: 1)improving institutional and technical capacity of the Regional Vital Events Registration Agencies (RVERAs) in Oromia and SNNPR; 2) establishing a standardized database and data management system; 3) providing RVERAs with modern IT devices and transportation, in order to better reach remote and disadvantaged areas. 820,000 newborn children will benefit from this initiative.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Arturo Luzzi, Ambassador of Italy to Ethiopia said that: “Through this initiative, we reiterate our strong commitment to work closely with the Ethiopian Authorities in order to ensure the basic rights and protection of newborns and children, since the first crucial step of identification and registration”.

Italy and UNICEF sign the agreement for the second phase of the “vital events registration project”
Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia says: the Italy support will allow UNICEF to scale up its programmatic support to the Regional Vital Events Registration Agencies of Oromia and SNNP region.

Ms. Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, on her part said: “We enter into the second phase of this partnership having witnessed encouraging results over the past twelve months. The renewed support will allow UNICEF to scale up its programmatic support to the Regional Vital Events Registration Agencies of Oromia and SNNP regions in their efforts to further improve and standardize the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics system.”

Ms. Ginevra Letizia, Head of the Addis Ababa Office of the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation underlined that “The project works at community level, raising the awareness on the importance and benefits of birth registration, that is a crucial element for each individual also allowing citizens to benefit from social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights, reducing the phenomena of marginalization and exploitation”.