In Ethiopia, Girls Bravely Speak Up Against Sexually Abusive Teacher, as “Me Too” campaign kicks off worldwide

By Amanda Westfall

ADDIS ABABA, 9 OCTOBER 2017: In October 2017, UNICEF Ambassador Alyssa Milano sparked the viral campaign, “me too,” where she asked those who had been victims of sexual abuse to say #metoo via social media. With the goal to show the scale of the issue, the campaign shocked the world as millions of women, girls, men and boys participated.

In Ethiopia, Konjit,[1] a 14-year-old eighth-grader who attends a junior-secondary school in Addis Ababa,[2] is one of these brave girls who spoke out on sexual assault. Last year, one of her closest friends confided in Konjit and told her that their teacher had been sexually abusing her. Konjit, being a member of the school gender club knew what the teacher was doing was illegal. At her weekly club meetings, she was taught about the code-of-conduct which clearly states that those acts were punishable by school law. After discussing with her friend, Konjit decided to bring the case to the gender club to discuss what steps they needed to take to punish the teacher and stop the abuse from continuing.

The word began to spread to other classmates. More girls began speaking out to say, “me too.” They were first quiet for fear and shame, but once one girl bravely spoke out they too found the courage to tell their story.

As one can imagine, this was not the safest of times for the girls for fear that the teacher would find out and do more harm. “It was scary for us because if he saw us together he may know what we were up to. We were all so afraid of the teacher,” said Konjit.

However, this did not stop them. Konjit and other gender club members were determined to help their friends. In the end they found out that at least 9 girls were sexually abused by the same teacher, some at more severe levels than others. With support from the school’s Vice Director, Ms Netsanet Abebe, the gender club brought written statements from the victims as evidence to the school’s Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Code of Conduct Committee who referenced the chapter that leads to severe types of misconduct. The committee unanimously made the decision to dismiss the teacher. The school also referred the case to the justice department for legal action where the teacher was then convicted in court and sent to jail for his actions.

Gender Clubs in schools protect girls from violence
Ms Netsanet, Vice Director, is also the acting focal point for the gender club. The efforts made to convict and fire a teacher, who was sexually abusing girls, could not have been possible without the support of her. She gives proper guidance to Konjit and her gender club-mates about school-related gender-based violence. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk

If the incidents happened only a few years earlier, the teacher would have gotten away with his actions. However, two years ago UNICEF began supporting the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct, build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse, strengthen the capacity of gender clubs to put reporting channels in place, as well as incorporate men and boys into the clubs so that they can also play a central role in combatting gender-based violence.

Gender Clubs in schools protect girls from violence
UNICEF supports the Ethiopian Ministry of Education to develop a national code-of-conduct and build a system to report on gender-based violence and abuse in schools while also strengthening the capacity of gender clubs. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk


Today, Konjit and her friends feel a strong sense of empowerment. Each of them took huge risks to tell their stories, but because they understood their legal rights they knew it was well worth it. The girls now know what to do to stop this from happening to other classmates. As one of the victims strongly puts it, “Now that the teacher is out, no one else would dare to do that to us. We feel stronger and more confident to take action!”

In a country like Ethiopia, where the prevalence of school-related sexual violence goes as high as 46 per cent[3] it takes courageous girls to stand up and say, “Me too” and “enough is enough!”

 

 

 

[1] The name has been changed due to confidentiality issues.

[2] Ethiopian primary school stretches for 8 years, from grade 1 – 8. Grades 7 and 8 could also be known as ‘junior secondary school’. The official age of school entry is 7 years. 

[3] Save the Children Denmark, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Women’s Affairs. (2008)

Girls’ Club Rescues Girls from Child Marriage in Rural Ethiopia

By Martha Tadesse

ZIGEM WOREDA, AMHARA REGION, 06 OCTOBER 2017 – “I went to the police station when my parents told me that I am getting married,” says Mestawet Mekuria,14, a 7th grader in Ayti Primary School, Amhara region, northern Ethiopia. She is also among 20 girl students who have been rescued from getting married in the school.

“I had learned about child marriage and its consequences in our school’s girls’ club. I told my parents that I do not want to get married. But they refused, and that is when I ran to the police station.”

Mestawet went to the police assuming that her parents will only be warned seriously. But it was much more than that. Her parents were arrested and imprisoned for two weeks for violating the law.

“I was sad when they were arrested but they refused to listen to me.”

International Day of the Girl Child 2017- Child Marriage
Mestawet Mekurya, 14, 7th grade student at Ayti Primary School, Zigem, Amhara region. © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

Child marriage, a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is prevalent across all regions of Ethiopia. According to the 2011 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS), Amhara region has the second highest rate of child marriage, 56 per cent, next to Benishangul-Gumuz region which has 58.

Although, Mestawet’s parents were angry for what happened to them, later they made peace with her through a mediation which was led by village elders. “My parents now understand about child marriage and its consequences. They are no longer angry with me,” says Mestawet.

Child marriage often perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty. When girls get married at early age, their prospects for a healthy and successful life will be at stake. Evidence shows that girls who marry early are less likely to finish school and more likely to be victims of domestic violence and abuse. In addition, young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s.

Girls’ clubs making a big impact

Strengthening girls’ club as part of the accelerated effort to end child marriage in  Zigem woreda, Amhara region was initiated in 2015 by the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA) through support from UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage.

The ending child marriage programme focuses on enhancing the capacity of girls through providing life skill training, information about their rights and available services as well as enhancing the responsiveness of schools and legal services. It also targets families and communities to change their attitude towards ending the practice and show support to alternative life options for girls such as their education.

International Day of the Girl Child 2017- Child Marriage
“Because we have been part of the girls club, we have rescued a girl from marrying this man her family knew” (Left to right) Mekdes Degnew, Ayehush Abera and Tigist Seyoum, 14 © UNICEF Ethiopia /2017/Tadesse

Girls’ clubs are established with the aim of preventing and mitigating school based and community based barriers to girls’ education. The clubs are making a difference in reducing child marriage by empowering girls through life skills trainings. The clubs particularly focus on engaging girls between 5th-8th grades as these represent the age group most commonly affected by child marriage.

According to Abebe Adamu, one of the trainers from Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, 106 girls were rescued from getting married in 2016 and 55 girls last year. “The community is currently aware that child marriage is harmful,” he says. “Students are also more aware of their rights to reject any marriage proposal coming to them against their will.”

Wubayehu Tilahun, girls’ club coordinator and a teacher at Ayti Primary School is pleased with the girls’ club performance. “Seeing my students continue their education gives me a great pleasure. Here in Ayti, we have rescued 20 girls from marriage in the past two years, and we will continue to be fighting against this harmful practice.”

Even though girls’ clubs are currently promoting change in schools where they are active, there are still many challenges.  “Budget constraints hinders the effort to expand the exemplary role that the clubs are making in schools and communities,” says Abebe. “We have many primary schools that do not have such a functional structure like Ayti and we need more support,” he added.

Nationally, the Government of Ethiopia has made a commitment to end child marriage by 2025 through enhanced coordination, budget allocation, accountability mechanism and availability of data. The establishment of a National Alliance to End Child Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) is another significant stride in the effort to end child marriage as it has been key in coordinating interventions.

UNICEF supports the Government’s effort by strengthening the coordination mechanisms at different levels. Additionally, UNICEF is supporting the implementation of a multi-sectoral programmes in six regions: Amhara, Afar, Somali, Oromia, Gambella and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples region. The programme includes social mobilization to change attitudes and strengthen collective community action to end the practice. It also focuses on improving enforcement of the existing legal frameworks.

To further strengthen and accelerate efforts to end child marriage and other harmful traditional practices and to bring about the necessary societal shifts in communities, UNICEF has also established strategic partnership with major faith based and civil society organizations.

“Child marriage is a harmful practice, and I want girls to continue with their education like me,” says Mestawet. “I have seen my classmates quit school because they are married. I always tell my friends in my village about child marriage, and I will continue to do so to others”.

Mestawet wants to become either a doctor or a teacher. It might be years before she realizes her dreams but in the meantime, she keeps protecting girls in her village, including her own younger sister, from getting married early.

Researchers in Action for African children

Researchers from around the continent are gathered this week in Addis Ababa to Put Children First!

In Africa, two billion babies will be born between today and 2050, translating into more than 60 million new lives every year. By 2055, the continent of Africa will be home to 1 billion children, nearly 40 per cent of the number of children worldwide.  Therefore, as noted in the conference by UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Ms Leila Pakkala, nowhere in the world are children more central to a continent’s future than in Africa and “children must be put first”.

Putting Children First: Identifying Solutions and Taking Action to Tackle Child Poverty and  Inequality in Africa
Policy makers, practitioners and researchers discussing better ways in identifying solutions for fighting child poverty and inequality in Africa. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Meklit Mersha

The international conference with the theme: Putting Children First-Identifying Solutions and Taking Action to Tackle Child Poverty and Inequality in Africa has been promoted by the End Child Poverty Global Coalition and organized at national level by the Ethiopian Centre for Child Research (ECCR) with UNICEF Ethiopia’s support. The Centre is currently establishing partnerships and research collaborations with potential researchers and research institutes nationally and globally.

At the conference, the Ethiopian Minister of Women and Children’s affairs stated, “Because of the Government and its development partners’ efforts, national poverty rates have seen a significant reduction over the past decade in Ethiopia, decreasing from 39 per cent in 2003 to 29 per cent in 2011. However, the decrease in poverty over the past few years has not matched the rate of economic growth, suggesting that economic growth has partly failed to benefit the most vulnerable sectors of society. Women and children are one of the least benefited and vulnerable sections in the society”.

ECCR will share an analysis on the dynamics of multi-dimensional poverty among children in Ethiopia which was also jointly presented with UNICEF Ethiopia at the Child Poverty Conference for MENA in Rabat and at the 6th International Society for Child Indicators in Canada.

Using an adaptation of the Multiple Overlapping Deprivations Approach, it has been showed that share of children who are deprived in two or more poverty dimensions, such as lack of appropriate or access to health and education services or poor quality of housing declined from 82 per cent to 35 per cent between 2002 and 2013. In the meantime, the percentage of children non-deprived increased from 18 per cent in 2002 to 65 per cent in 2013.

For researchers and other professionals in various fields, children should be the top-most priority as we all look for pathways to unlock poverty and inequality in the continent. The ongoing conference would be a great opportunity for practitioners and policy makers from Africa to contribute to the overall debate on child poverty-towards contributing to address child poverty in all its dimensions while promoting evidence generation.

Sweden Signs an Agreement with UNICEF to Build an Integrated Safety Net System for the Most Vulnerable Women and Children in Ethiopia

The Government avails US$ 9.2 million contribution to implement the programme in five years

12 October 2017, ADDIS ABABA – The Government of Sweden provided US$9.2 million to UNICEF Ethiopia to support a national integrated safety net system for the most vulnerable women and children in both rural and urban parts of the country. The initial phase will provide direct cash support to 1,000 households in Amhara region and 1,000 households in Addis Ababa with the objective to scale up innovations for the 8 million Rural Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) beneficiaries and the envisaged 4.7 million urban poor who are going to benefit from the Urban PSNP. The programme will be implemented from 2017 to 2022.

The objective of this programme is to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures which ensure increased access to a comprehensive package of social protection interventions and services to poor and vulnerable citizens coping with social and economic risks, vulnerabilities and deprivations. It also aims to strengthen the Government’s capacity to develop, implement, coordinate and monitor a national, child-sensitive social protection system in the country.

At the signing ceremony, H.E Mr Torbjörn Petterson, Ambassador of Sweden to Ethiopia said, “In spite of existing challenges, it is impressive to see strong government commitment, financially as well as technically, to support the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP). Partnering with UNICEF in this particular endeavour, gives us leverage in terms of significant experience with previously supported pilot programmes which helped inform the design of PSNP 4.”

The first joint pilot project supported by UNICEF in Tigray, which MoLSA implemented between 2012-2015 together with the Tigray Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs (BoLSA), was guided by a rigorous evidence generation plan and demonstrated the role of community care structures and social workers. As a result, community care structures and social workers have since become crucial components of the national social protection system – a major milestone towards establishing a countrywide social welfare workforce.

Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia and Mr Torbjörn Petterson, Ambassador of Sweden to Ethiopia signing the grant agreement. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Demissew Bizuwerk

“This timely contribution from SIDA will allow us to build on the rich experience of these successful pilot interventions. We are also expanding existing multi-sectoral linkages and will explore synergies between different public social protection measures, for example between PSNP and Community Based Health Insurance,” said Ms Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “We embrace this partnership with great enthusiasm since the outcome of the programme will extend beyond the pilot regions and further assist the Government of Ethiopia and UNICEF to develop a nationwide social protection system that is child sensitive and which prioritizes the most vulnerable and marginalized.”

Despite Ethiopia’s significant economic growth over the past decades, 32 per cent of Ethiopian children still live in poverty. Building an integrated and child sensitive social protection system, which focuses on those left behind, is a critical element in ensuring more inclusive development to the benefit of all children.

With the provision of access to an integrated social protection system in urban and rural areas, the programme aims to contribute to long-term poverty alleviation. In addition, the programme is expected to have a significant impact on the nutrition, health and education-related status of the target groups with a focus on adolescent girls. Furthermore, the proposed interventions will provide solid evidence to enable relevant government authorities to implement efficient and effective integrated social protection measures which will inform annual reviews of the social protection sector and future phases of national programmes such as the PSNP and the Urban PSNP.

 

Child Birth Registration Sets Hope for Protecting Children’s Basic Rights

By Esete Yeshitla

MECHA, AMHARA, 09 June 2017 – Mulugeta Yetayew and his wife Yezena Adane, both in their early 40s, warmly welcome us inside their rustic one-room cottage which serves as a bedroom and family room for them and their eight children, as well as a grain storage.

_MIK4371
Mulugeta Yetayew, 43 and his wife Yezena Adane 40, pictured here with two of their eight children and a neighbour’s son, live in Mecha woreda, Amhara region. Only four-month-old Sindu Mulugeta has a birth certificate. ©UNICEF/2017/Michael Tsegaye

Mulugeta barely remembers the birth dates of his children. It is only baby Sindu Mulugeta, four months old, who was registered within 90 days of her birth. However, Mulugeta is able to tell his children’s ages. “My firstborn is 24, then 23, the third is 20, then 18, then 16, then comes 15, the next 13, then 4. The last is Sindu, she was born in February.” When Mulugeta and Yezena were growing up, there was no registration or certification of birth. Mulugeta and Yezena did not know the importance of recording their children’s age and consequently, their children did not receive basic immunizations at the appropriate time. Sending children to school at an early age is also not a common occurrence, in Mecha. Children were expected to help with household work or herd cattle. Receiving a modern education was considered a luxury, as supporting the family was far more important. It was also common for 14 or 15-year-old girls to be married.

With grief on his face, Mulugeta continued, “My firstborn did not get a proper education. He is now a daily labourer in the desert of Benishangul-Gumuz region.” Thankfully, it is different for his other children. Even though most of them started school at a later age, Mulugeta is determined to ensure his children receive an education.

Mulugeta is grateful for the sensitization conducted in Bachema kebele (sub-district). Awareness raising, social mobilization and demand creation for registration and certification services are interventions implemented by the Government to encourage birth registration and registration of other vital events.

UNICEF Ethiopia has supported the Government’s initiative through technical and financial contributions, as well as regular follow up and monitoring of implementation. “Even religious leaders are advising us to get our children get registered,” Mulugeta says before continuing, “Now everyone is neke,” which is slang in Amharic meaning, ‘people are conscious’.  Mulugeta continued, “We are going to make Semegne start school when she is seven. I hope that my children will be educated and have better jobs.”

Birth Registration in Amhara
Memeher Yitbarek Shegaw, an Orthodox priest in Merhawi city, West Gojam zone of Amhara region ©UNICEF/2017/Michael Tsegaye

As part of the community intervention, religious leaders and social structures are utilized to convey messages. Memeher Yitbarek Shegaw is a priest of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith in Merhawi city. Yitbarek explains, “In the orthodox church tradition there is a registration for birth and death. However, the city’s mayor invited us for discussion and convinced us that even if registration in the church is customary, the need to be registered according to the law is important and beneficiary for a child.”

Training was also provided to kebele leaders and religious leaders. Yitbarek says, “When parents come to us for christening, we encourage parents to get their children get registered.”

To improve the coverage of birth registration, UNICEF is supporting the Vital Events Registration Agency (VERA) and the Regional Health Bureau to integrate birth registration into maternal and new born health services. This integration alerts kebele registration centres when births happen in health facilities.

Systematic registration of vital events such as birth, death, marriage and divorce is new; previously registration only occurred upon request. Based on a 2014 Government law, VERA was created and training ensued for different Government bodies.

According to VERA, between August 2016 and May 2017, only 94,008 out of 669,008 births in Amhara, were registered. Furthermore, out of the total registered, 62 per cent are current (registered within 90 days of birth), 18 per cent are late (registered after 90 days but within one year) and 20 per cent are backlog (registered after one year from occurrence of birth).

The vital events registration programme is a key component of the Government’s efforts to support children and their rights. A birth certificate is fundamental to the realization of a number of rights and practical needs, including access to healthcare and immunizations, supporting timely school registration, enforcing laws related to child labour and securing a child’s right to a nationality, among others. With the nationwide VERA in place, Ethiopia will soon see all its children with a birth certificate, providing them one further step towards a better future.

UNICEF Signs Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2010 Work Plans with Government

By Metasebia Solomon

ADDIS ABABA, 30 June 2017- UNICEF Ethiopia signed the Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2010 annual work plans with the Federal and Regional Government under the umbrella of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF 2016-2020).  The signing ceremony, held at the Ethiopian Ministry of Finance and Economic Commission’s office, was attended by Heads of United Nations agencies including UNDP, UNFPA and UNICEF and the implementing Federal and Regional Government offices as signatories of the annual work plans.

Mr Admasu Nebebe, State Minister for Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation, speaking after signing the work plans, said “Implementation of the signed work plans will contribute to the achievement of Ethiopia’s current Growth and Transformation Plan [GTP II]. The results and activities are linked to the Government’s priorities at all levels.” UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, Officer-in-Charge, Ms. Shalini Bahuguna, applauded the Government of Ethiopia’s leadership in implementing the annual work plans, saying “A recent review conducted by UNICEF’s global team has identified the annual work planning process of Ethiopia as a model for other country offices, demonstrating principle of alignment with government policy and ownership by stakeholders.”

 

UNICEF signs Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2010 Work Plans with government
Ato Admasu Nebebe, State Minister for Ministry of Finance and Economic Cooperation shakes hands with Ms Shalini Bahuguna, UNICEF representative to Ethiopia, O.i.C after signing the Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Work Plan. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Zerihun Sewunet

The work plans were prepared under the logic that the accomplishment of activities will contribute to the achievement of UNICEF’s and UNDAF’s intermediate and higher level results, which are in support of GTP II.  A consultative process was followed during the preparation of the work plans at the Regional and Federal level.  This year, UNICEF Ethiopia signed 143 work plans with more than 140 Regional and Federal Government implementing partners. The work plans cover fifteen programme areas including:

  • Health
  • Nutrition
  • Education
  • Early Warning and Disaster Preparedness
  • Water Supply
  • Sanitation and Hygiene
  • Child Friendly Social Welfare
  • Social Protection
  • Adolescents and HIV/AIDS
  • Violence against Children
  • Ending Child Marriage and FGM
  • Birth Registration
  • Justice for Children
  • Child Rights
  • Public Finance for Children
  • Evidence and Coordination

The total budget equals US$ 74,867,075.  Implementation of the work plans will start on the 1st of July 2017 and will close on the 30th of June 2018, following the Ethiopian Fiscal Year.

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.