Elders advise against child marriage in favour of education in Amhara

Ato Zelalem Belay, 70, influential community leader at Dangla Woreda, Badani Kebele, Amhara region.
Zelalem Belay, 70, Elder, speaks in front of Bandani Kebele’s Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage, Amhara, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mersha

Zelalem Belay, 70, is a respected Community Elder and member of the Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage in the Bandani Kebele (neighbourhood) of the Dangla Woreda (district) in Amhara, Ethiopia.

He stands in front of the gathered crowd and speaks with absolute humility and sincerity as he discusses his personal regrets over marrying his daughters when they were children: “At my age I have to tell the truth. Why hide when I can stand here and tell the truth for the betterment of my community,” Zelalem says.

“At first I opposed the change in culture away from chid marriage. I was resisting what the role of the poor girls could be. What options do poor children have? I thought. But I have since become convinced child marriage is not right. I have changed my mind. By supporting poor girls with economic incentives so they can continue their education, there is a different future for them and for their families”, explains Zelalem.

“I was married at 18, to a ten year old girl, but she kept running back to her family. She wanted no physical attachment to me. So three months later I had a second marriage to a 15 year old – it was easy to arrange quickly as my father was wealthy. My first wife, her parents sent her back to school and she married again a few years later.”

Ato Zelalem Belay, 70, has 2 boys and 5 girls
Zelalem Belay, 70, Elder, a member of Bandani Kebele’s Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage, Amhara, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mersha

Zelalem continues: “So you see, in my former life, I had good assets, with family land and property, but then we did not see education as important. But now, those who are educated, they have a higher position than those with just land. A district judge, a school principle – they educate their children so that they have a position in society, they dress well.

Zelalem’s gaze is firm, his voice unwavering as he explains the impact on one of his children: “One daughter, I married her at 15, she gave birth immediately but she is now divorced. I sent her back to school. But she did not perform well. Her life was disturbed and miserable.

“So I strongly advise against child marriage. It is a bad experience for the boy and the girl. If there is a young girl and older man, she will not be responsible for the house and he will always be out spending his money on other women.”

The day before, a neighbour had come to consult Zelalem over marrying his 11 year old daughter. Zelalem explains: “I told him the law and that the marriage may not work out. That he will have lost property in agreeing to a marriage that does not last – divorce when people marry as children is common. I told him his daughter will probably run away. If she runs away to the city she could end up as a sex worker, trying to support herself. Many end up in cities working in local bars. They have nothing to fall back on.

“My life experience tells me that if you marry with an equal age and love each other – when it is a choice – and you share household responsibilities equally, then the marriage will prosper. They can run a business together, the husband can source raw materials and the wife can use them to make local beer to sell. It is a better life.

“I dream to get back to be like a child, and to live such a life.”

Health workers create awareness on the consequences of child marriage in Amhara

“I go to visit new mothers seven days after giving birth to give them iron, and it is then I will refer them to hospital if they are suffering from fistula. I referred two women recently,” explains Hebeste Admas, 26, a Health Extension Worker at a local health post in the Bandani Kebele (neighbourhood) of the Dangla Woreda (district) in Amhara, Ethiopia.

Hebeste continues, “Child marriage results in so many other health consequences including miscarriage and stunting of the child. A girl’s uterus may be damaged from intercourse and she will suffer great psychological distress. I have seen all of this.”

Yitayesh Akalu, Expert at the Dangla Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office comments: “The problem of fistula is so huge we have dedicated fistula health centres. Fistula happens mostly to child and adolescent mothers as a result of intense and prolonged labour – their bodies are simply not developed enough to give birth. We have community ambulances so that fistula cases can be treated straight away. A girl will be transported by youth groups carrying her on a bed until they get to an accessible area where the ambulance will collect her.”

Hebeste has been a Health Extension Worker since she was 17, and her role includes teaching community members about the health consequences of child marriage.

Hibist Admas, 26, has worked as a health extension worker for 9 years. She witnesses a major decline in child marriage over the past few years. She says she doesn't face any hardship regarding her fight against child marriage as she works closely with gov

“In my 9 years as a Health Extension Worker I have seen a decline in child marriage as a result of community awareness, and I do believe the practice will stop. I report cases to the police. There is no confidentiality as they are breaking the law. However people hold alternative ceremonies in secret to hide that it is a child marriage – at night or at dawn. Then the girl disappears and the family say she has gone to live with an aunt.”

Hebeste continues: “But local health workers like me know every pregnant woman and the Women’s Development Groups and Health Development Groups who look after the wellbeing of girls and prevent them marrying, operate at the village level. So we know. The development armies report to me and I report cases to the health centre and police.”

Hebeste notes the way girls who are forced to marry are not as able to protect their own health and plan their families. She explains: “There is a real difference between older and younger women who are married. Adult women come to me for family planning services without the knowledge or consent of their husband. Whereas when girls marry as children, they do not understand the consequences of sex, they are not empowered to seek advice, and so they do not come to me.

“I have had parents bring their daughter to me ahead of marriage saying they want contraceptives for her to try and avoid the complications of childbirth. The girl told me she was really scared to be marrying an adult man. I reported them.”

Determined men and women form a community to end child marriage

Community advocates of Amhara region, Awi Zone, Badani Kebele, Dangla Woreda. All working hand in hand to transform child marriage practices in Amhara.
A meeting of the Bandani Kebele Community Conversation Group which advocates against child marriage, Saguma village, Bandani Kebele, Dangla Woreda (District) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mersha

“We are not just talking about change, we are stopping children from marrying.” A group of determined men and women from various villages in the Dangla Woreda (District) of Amhara, Ethiopia, sit under a tree among a verdant landscape of hills and pasture. Cattle, donkeys, goats, and the steep banks of a river in view. There is a food surplus in this area, the harvest having been plentiful. The talk is lively and incessant as the group discuss their antipathy towards child marriage and their unified commitment to see the practise eliminated in the Kebele (neighbourhood) of Bandani. Known as the Community Conversation Group (CCG), the 35 men and 35 women come from many of the 550 households in Bandani. All are considered influential community members, be that as elders, health workers, religious leaders or members of the Women’s Development Group.

Atalil Abera, 35, chair of women's development group . She works closely with community conversation groups to prevent child marriage.
Atalele Abera, 35, a member of the local Women’s Development Group and of Bandani Kebele’s Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage, Amhara, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mersha

Atalele Abera, 35, a member of the Women’s Development Group, comments: “Our group influences other women and most women want to engage in discussions on child marriage. There were 130 child marriages in this Kebele last year. School is far away and parents fear violence against their children and defilement if they send them on the long journey to school. Many cannot afford to educate their children. I have three children and limited the size of my family by using contraception, so I could ensure they would all be educated.”
Almost every member of the CCG was themselves married either as a child or to a child. They have also faced the decision whether or not to marry their own pre-pubescent daughters and sons. Those who did, now openly regret it, because of the resulting family poverty and the compromised life particularly their daughters now live.

The CCG has “Eyes” and “Ears” members who are tasked with reporting what they see and hear regarding child marriage, prior to a fortnightly meeting, hosted by the Community Conversation Facilitator, Girma Demlash, 30.

The CCG is part of a comprehensive programme against child marriage involving multiple stakeholders. The programme is run by the local government, the Dangla Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office (WCYAO), supported by UNICEF.

Yitayesh Akalu, Expert at the Dangla WCYAO comments: “We have undertaken several trainings with community members on how to implement the UNICEF social mobilisation project against child marriage. That includes how to establish a change group known as a Community Conversation Group. We have trained 10 male and 10 female Community Conversation Facilitators so far. This is the first time we have conducted a comprehensive programme in Dangela Woreda. It is a multi-sectoral programme involving health, education, justice, the community and livelihoods, in the form of a fund to support parents to educate their girls instead of marry them.”

Girma Demlash, Community Conversation Facilitator, comments: “We are very grateful to UNICEF for helping us facilitate the community conversations. Everyone who takes part is committed to ending chid marriage. We have just prevented two marriages – those of a 10 year old and a 13 year old girl – from going forward as a result of the girls reporting to us that their parents were in the process of arranging their marriages. We are not just talking about change, we are stopping children from marrying.”

Ethiopia to run united to create the future we want

United Nations banner for UN at 70
United Nations banner for UN at 70 at the launching of Great Ethiopia Run’s Plan International Ethiopia children races and Running for a Cause campaign, Addis Ababa Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Sewunet

The UN turns 70 this year. The UN agencies in Ethiopia are preparing for the historic moment to celebrate the achievements of the organisation while recommitting itself to support the country in tackling problems associated with, poverty, education, health, children, refugees, conflict prevention and climate change. As part of the celebration the UN is partnering with the Great Ethiopian Run to stage an annual run with a theme “Unite to create the future we want” in which 40,000 people are expected to participate. The annual running carnival is Africa’s biggest 10km race and it continues to attract more people around the world each year. Representing the UN, George Okutho, United Nations Resident Coordinator (a.i.) speaking today at the launching of Plan International Ethiopia children races and Running for a Cause campaign said, “sport is a vehicle for development and we view our partnership as an important means of getting our message across to a wider audience and hence, encouraging positive change in Ethiopia.”

A girl stands in the crowd wearing 2015 GER childrens race t-shirt
A girl stands in the crowd wearing 2015 GER children’s race t-shirt at the launching of Great Ethiopia Run’s Plan International Ethiopia children races and Running for a Cause campaign, Addis Ababa Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Sewunet

This year’s children race theme is “I Am A Girl Child Do Not Make Me A Child Mother.” In Ethiopia, one in every five girls and is prevalent across all the regions. In Amhara nearly half of the girls are married before the age of 18.

As announced in June this year Haile Gebreselassie, the legendary long-distance track and road running athlete, will lead 40,000 participants as his last local race at the 15th edition of the Great Ethiopian Run taking place on Sunday 22 November 2015.

“I am running my last race here in Ethiopia and I would like to be a champion for ending a child marriage. In rural areas, the problem is still highly persistent.” Relating to his own life, Haile said, “My mother had me when she was 14 and this has to stop.”

The UN in Ethiopia supports the Great Ethiopian Run annually not only to promote important social messages but also to raise funds to charities. Under the annual official fundraising campaign “Running for a Cause”, the UN and Great Ethiopian Run target to raise 1.4 million birr this year. The fund will be used for social protection and welfare programmes run by local charities that are selected by the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs. The UN also worked with the Great Ethiopian Run to organise regional races in the regional capitals to promote the MDG goals and will continue to promote the new post MDG, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Including high officials from partners, renowned personalities including, Chachi Tadesse, Seleshi Demissie (Gash Abera Molla) and Nibret Gelaw (Eke) stressed the importance of running for a cause and pledged to support the UN, the Great Ethiopian Run and partners in their humanitarian work.

Girls’ Empowerment Race in Samara to end Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C)

Children race held on the event Girl's Empowerment Regional race
Start of the Children race held as part of Girl’s Empowerment communication campaign in Gonder, Amhara region, Ethiopia © UNICEF Ethiopia 2015/Tesfaye

Addis Ababa, Samara, 1 October 2015 – UNICEF Ethiopia, in partnership with the Afar Bureau of Women Children and Youth Affairs (BoWCYA), the Afar Sport Commission and the Great Ethiopian Run, is organising a mass participation 5 km race in Samara on Sunday 4 October 2015, to promote Girls’ Empowerment. The theme of the run in Samara is “Ending Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting.”

Despite a steady reduction in Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) nationally over the past decade, most recent official data from the 2011 Welfare and Monitoring Survey indicates that one in every four girls (23 per cent) is subjected to the practice. In the Afar Region, there has also been a steady decline, however, still an alarming 60 per cent of girls under the age of 14 years are subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting, placing the region second after Somali.[i]

In Afar, girls are subjected to an extreme form of the practice – infibulation – which involves total cutting of the genitalia followed by stitching. This practice usually happens when girls are between seven and nine years old, but in some districts in Afar this practice even occurs when girl babies are only a few days old. 

The Government, recognising that the abandonment of female genital mutilation requires a human-rights based approach and coordinated joint action by all actors, has adopted a National Strategy and Action Plan on Harmful Traditional Practices against Women and Children (2013) and established a National Alliance to End Child Marriage and FGM/C.

The Government of Afar with UNICEF and other partners is implementing interventions to address FGM/C around 3 pillars: prevention, protection and provision of services. Regarding prevention, girls’ empowerment programmes are underway through girls clubs, incentives to keep girls in school and social mobilisation activities, including this race. In addition, religious leaders and communities are working together in social mobilisation initiatives through community conversations and public declarations on the abandonment of the practice coupled with health extension workers’ awareness-raising efforts with communities on the negative health impact of the practice. Police, judges and prosecutors are being trained and specialised police units have been established to better respond to cases of FGM/C and to provide protection and child-friendly justice to girls. Health practitioners are increasingly providing services to girls who are suffering from complications resulting from FGM/C.

Through the ‘UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Accelerating Change’,  UNFPA and UNICEF support the Government of Ethiopia and other partners such as the Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA) and Rohi Weddu to strengthen legislation outlawing the practice and to carry out activities enabling communities to make a coordinated and collective choice to abandon FGM/C.

FGM victim Ten year old Sadiye Abubakar in Mille, Afar, Ethiopia
Ten year old Sadiye Abubakar, admitted to Barbara May Hospital in Mille, Afar with her mother Sofya, unable to pass urine for more or less a month. ©Ethiopia/2013/Colville-Ebeling

“FGM/C is a violation of a girl’s right to health, well-being and self-determination,” says Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “FGM/C may cause severe pain and can result in prolonged bleeding, infection, infertility and even death. FGM/C is also harmful to new-borns due to adverse obstetric outcomes, leading to perinatal deaths.  The challenge now is to let girls and women, boys and men speak out loudly and clearly and announce they want this harmful practice abandoned,” she added.

A total of 2000 adults and 500 children are expected to participate in the mass mobilisation race, while over 5000 thousand spectators are expected to attend the community outreach programme. In addition, a photo and art exhibition, which is open to the public, and a media roundtable discussion will take place on the eve of the race. 

The events will be attended by high-level government dignitaries, representatives from the UN, NGOs, CSOs and members of the media. In addition, Thomas Gobena also known as “Tommy T”, international bass player for Gogol Bordello Band and who will be appointed as a National Ambassador to UNICEF Ethiopia this month will attend the activities in Samara. Other renowned artists and sport personalities will also attend the event to support the messaging around Girls’ Empowerment.

Gonder and Samara to spearhead Girls’ Empowerment Races

Addis Ababa, Gonder, 17 September 2015 – UNICEF Ethiopia, in partnership with the Amhara Bureau of Women Children and Youth Affairs (BoWCYA), the Gonder City Administration Culture, Tourism and Sport Department and the Great Ethiopian Run, are organising a mass participation 5 km race in Gonder on Sunday 20 September 2015, and in Samara on 4 October 2015, to promote Girls’ Empowerment.

A total of 5,000 adults and 1,250 children are expected to participate in the running events, while over 10,000 thousand spectators are expected to attend the event and the messaging. Besides, two community outreach programmes are planned in both locations and expect to reach thousands. In addition, a photo and art exhibition and media roundtable discussion will take place on the eve of the race.

The twoPoster- Great Ethiopian Run in Gondar races will focus on themes relevant to each region. In Gonder, the focus will be on “Ending Child Marriage” while in Samara, the emphasis will be on “Ending Female Genital Mutilation/ Cutting (FGM/C).”

In Ethiopia, one in every five girls is married before the age of 18 and this practice is prevalent across all the regions. In Amhara nearly half of the girls are married before the age of 18 (44.8 per cent, EGLDAM, 2008). Nearly 60 per cent of cases of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting is practiced in the Afar Region.

“UNICEF strongly believes that by 2025, Ethiopia will no longer have cases of child marriage, but this will only happen if we all work together – the government, civil society, religious and community leaders, women, men, boys and the girls themselves,” said Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia.

The event will be attended by high-level government dignitaries, representatives from the UN, NGOs, CSOs and members of the media. In addition, Abelone Melesse, UNICEF National Ambassador to Ethiopia, and renowned artists and sport personalities including Haregwoine Assefa and athlete Gebeyaneshe Ayele respectively (winner of the 15 km Dasani Road Race in Addis Ababa in June and winner of Millennium half marathon in Accra Ghana two weeks ago) will be attending the activities in Gonder to support the messaging around Girls’ Empowerment.

 

ECHO’s support realises a safe space for South Sudan refugee children to be children

By Charlene Thompson

Children in one of the child friendly spaces in the Kule Refugee Camp
Children in one of the child friendly spaces in the Kule Refugee Camp ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Thompson

Gambella, Ethiopia 31 October, 2014 – There’s an exciting game of volleyball being played and both the participants and spectators are intently focused on the next move. A young boy serves and the ball hits the net; he doesn’t quite get it over but the children are laughing.

It’s a scene that could have taken place on any playground, with any group of children but this game is being played in the Kule Refugee Camp in Gambella, Ethiopia and all of the children here fled the war in South Sudan. This volleyball game is being played in one of the child friendly spaces (CFS) developed by UNICEF and Plan International with the financial support of ECHO and in partnership with Ethiopia’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) who manage the camp.

“This child friendly space is providing a safe area for children in this camp where they can play and learn and be themselves,” said Chuol Yar, a 27 year old refugee who is one of the camp’s community child protection workers. “This is a place where they can come and feel protected and love themselves. If they cannot do this here, then we are not doing things well,” he added.

According to UNICEF, child friendly spaces are designed to support the resilience and well‐being of children and young people through community organised, structured activities conducted in a safe, child friendly, and stimulating environment. Through the partnership between UNICEF and Plan International, 31 community child protection workers (14 female and 17 male) were trained in June and are currently providing support to children in two permanent and three temporary child friendly spaces in the Kule Camp.

They received training in principles of child friendly spaces, management of child friendly spaces, developing activities for children and monitoring and response to the needs of children.

The child friendly spaces in the Kule Refugee Camp cater to children from 3-18 years of age and they provide play areas for football, volleyball, jump rope and other outdoor activities. In addition, there are traditional storytelling sessions, dramas that are performed by the children, singing, reading materials and spaces where adolescents can engage in peer discussions.

South Sudan refugee children play in child friendly centre in Gambella Ethiopia
South Sudan refugee children play in child friendly centre in Gambella Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Sewunet

The community child protection workers also visit homes in the Kule Camp to encourage parents to send their children to the child friendly spaces.

“I let the parents know all of the activities that we have in the child friendly spaces and tell them that it is a protected space where the children can play safely,” said David Riang, another community child protection worker at the refugee camp. “The parents usually agree and send the children to the child friendly spaces,” he said as his colleague Chuol quickly added “I tell them without play children cannot learn. Play is important for a child’s mental development.”

In addition to the Kule Camp, UNICEF, with the support of ECHO, is supporting child friendly spaces at the Tierkidi Camp and at the Akobo border entry point. “The children in these camps have already experienced very difficult and tragic circumstances in their short lives. The aim of these child friendly spaces is to provide a safe space where a child can come and be a child,” said Tezra Masini, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Gambella.

For many of the community child protection workers this experience has also provided them with the opportunity to develop skills and actively participate in supporting their community. Many are from the same regions in South Sudan and having fled war also share similar experiences with the children. They communicate with the children in their local language and tell traditional stories and social teachings of their clan.

“My dream if God is willing is to become a medical doctor and support my community,” Chuol said and it is a sentiment expressed by other community child protection workers as well. “My dream is for our children to have a better future and hopefully return home one day to a peaceful South Sudan,” noted Bigoa Kuong, a 24 year old social worker who then quickly added with a broad smile, “and also a basketball court for the children to play.”