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.

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.

 

Japanese Support to make reliable water sources available in Gashamo

By Ayuko Matsuhashi

Gashamo Woreda, Somali REGION, 6 September 2017 – What if you are told that the water you would have daily for drinking, cooking and bathing is rain-dependent and dries up into a muddy puddle during eight out of the 12 months of the year?

For the lucky ones, life without water is unthinkable. Sadly enough, this still remains a daily life reality in arid and semi-arid areas in Ethiopia.

A shortage of water in Somali region has been devastating due to the ongoing multi-year drought. While climate resilient water source development is a key to mitigate negative impacts of the drought, the majority of the population in Somali region is still dependent on seasonal water harvesting ponds. Farah Abdulahi is a 34 year old single mother of four who has become an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) in Gashamo IDP site from a village which is 15km away. “I came here because I have lost all of my 150 goats and sheep since the onset of the drought,” Farah said. Several hydro-geological complications and costly investments have prevented the WASH sector from actively investing in drilling a deep borehole in the region whereas surface water sources are highly vulnerable to drought and put people at a greater risk. “I used to fetch water from birkas*. But they all dried up because there had been no rain,” Farah describes her life in the previous village before she was displaced. “Thanks to the humanitarian aid providing water at this IDP site, we are barely surviving.”

Deep borehole drilling, Gashamo woreda, Somali region
Farah Abdulahi with her children in her temporary shelter in Gashamo IDP site
© UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/ Michael Tsegaye

Ahmed Hussein Brerale, 57 years old, is one of the community elders in Haji Dereye kebele (sub-district) near Gashamo town. As a long time resident of Haji Dereye, he has witnessed the dreadful decrease of water in the area and says, “There is no borehole in this area. We heard that the nearest borehole is 78km away and is the only potable water source in this large woreda (district). What we have here is only seasonal water sources like birkas. As the last two rain seasons failed, the available volume of water in birkas has significantly decreased. We are worried.”

Deep borehole drilling, Gashamo woreda ,Somali region
Ahmed Hussein Brerale telling us their difficult situation with water © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/ Michael Tsegaye

In order to provide access to potable water for children and women such as Farah and her children, UNICEF Ethiopia has started drilling a new borehole near Gashamo town in partnership with a private sector partner with financial support from the Government of Japan’s emergency grant aid for the Middle East and Africa region for emergencies since August 2017. The drilling site was carefully located by using hydro-geological data from satellites in close collaboration with the Somali Regional State Water Bureau. According to the satellite data, the estimated depth of finding an aquifer is at around 500-600 metres. So far one-fourth of the planned depth has been achieved. Since there is no alternative safe and reliable water source in the area, this new borehole is going to be an ‘oasis in the desert’. Although this drilling work is one of the UNICEF’s emergency projects, in a longer term the project will also bring a sustainable solution for the area which is high vulnerability to climate change. The borehole is expected to provide clean water directly to 11,000 – 25,000 people in Gashamo town with a potential to indirect beneficiaries who are passing by from surrounding areas in search of water.

“I heard about the new borehole drilling. I am looking forward to seeing clean water. That has been always my dream to have clean water nearby in my life,” says Farah with a smile on her face.

UNICEF will keep working together with the regional water bureau to ensure that people who have been living without reliable water sources get sustainable access to potable water without interruption.

 

Deep borehole drilling, Gashamo woreda, Somali region
The drilling work is ongoing with support from the Japanese government near Gashamo town © UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/ Michael Tsegaye

 

 

*Birka – A traditional water harvesting pond which collects run-off water when it rains.

Ethiopia to Host the fourth Acting on the Call Conference of Ministers and Policy Makers on maternal and child survival

Media Advisory

What: The Ministry of Health will officially announce that Ethiopia will be hosting Acting on the Call conference of Ministers and high-level policy makers on maternal and child survival

When: Friday 18 August 2017, from 2:00 P.M – 3:30 P.M

Where: Ministry of Health, Addis Ababa Ethiopia

Who:
· H.E Prof. Yifru Berhan, Minister of Health, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
· Dr Ephrem Tekle, Director, Maternal Child Health and Nutrition Directorate, Minister of Health, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Why:

Hosted by the governments of Ethiopia and India, 2017 Acting on the Call conference will gather around 500 participants across the world, including Ministers and high-level policy makers from both the public and private sectors from 24 countries. The organization of this conference has been supported by many partner organizations such as USAID, UNICEF, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NGOs as well as private sector actors. This conference has these objectives:
· Highlight successful approaches to increase the use of high-impact reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health interventions (RMNCAH) with equity, quality and sustainability.
· Increase commitment from countries, private sector and NGOs to strengthen the system required to overcome the remaining key obstacles for maternal and child survival both within and outside the health sector.
· Demonstrate global commitment and continued the momentum to move forward towards the goal of ending preventable child and maternal deaths.

Promotion of Dietary Diversity for the Healthy Growth and Development of Children

By Esete Yeshitla

Sekota, AMHARA, 21 June 2017- Meet Netsanet, a strong and independent 25-year-old mother who is very self-assured; reminiscent of her name, which means ‘freedom’.

When we visit Netsanet in her house, it is a typical morning for her. First, she waters her home garden: cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and other vegetables. The seeds were provided by FAO with funding from the European Union through the woreda (district) agriculture office as a support for her family to have balanced meals. Her next task is feeding her chickens, from which she uses eggs for cooking and as a source of income. She sells eggs on Thursdays at the nearby Hamusit market. She then starts preparing breakfast. She takes fresh vegetables from her garden; a couple of eggs, milk, mixed grains and starts to cook the meal for her daughter.

Netsanet, preparing food as per lessons learned from health extension workers
Netsanet, preparing food as per lessons learned from health extension workers, at the woreda health post. Sekota woreda , Hamusit kebele ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Netsanet has two daughters, Mekdes age 5 and in kindergarten; and Tsige age 2. Netsanet explains the difference between her two pregnancies, birth and the girls’ first two years of life. “I had my first child at home, as we did not have awareness. I was lucky that I did not face any complications when I had her. If something bad had happened, I would have regretted it,” says Netsanet.

Back then, even when health extension workers insisted that women give birth at the health centre, it was embarrassing for most women. Netsanet explains, “Nowadays, even the wife of a priest gives birth at the health centre. We lost many of our sisters due to high blood loss during birth. I am grateful for the awareness we are getting now.”

Twice a month, they participate in awareness training at the health post, as part of a UNICEF-supported, European Union-funded programme called EU-SHARE. They also receive education on how to prepare balanced meals for young children under two years old, something Netsanet did not know how with her first child. She says, “I was younger, I only breastfed Mekdes when I had spare time as I was busy with house chores.” For her second daughter, she breastfeeds her 8-10 times per day. Netsanet says, “It makes my child strong and at the same time, it serves as protection against unwanted pregnancy.”

Netsanet has witnessed the results. “My first child was fragile and got sick regularly. I used to spend most of my time at the hospital or pharmacy. She was malnourished and at one point, I thought I would lose her. Thank God she was better after she started taking the [ready-to-use therapeutic foods] that was provided by the health post.”

Netsanet put into practice the education given to her about healthy nutrition with Tsige. She started to feed her food when she was six months old. She says, “We did not know that we can feed different vegetables to our babies.”

Netsanet and her husband have three plots of land allotted by the Government, which they use for harvesting crops. Netsanet says, “We do not sell what we produce. We use it for our consumption.”  In addition to selling eggs, Netsanet buys lambs, raises them and sells the sheep. She also buys grains from retailers and sells it for extra money. Netsanet adds, “So the money I get, I use it to buy other stuff.”

This is not the only work Netsanet has. She is also a member of the health development army (HDA), a strategic network the Government has galvanised to reach rural communities. As part of the Government’s intervention, health extension workers train women from the community to become HDA members and drive health-related behaviour change, including breastfeeding and child feeding practices, within their communities. Netsanet is a leader of five teams that each consist of five women- a ‘network’. Netsanet and five additional network leaders are supervised by a health extension worker.

Netsanet, feeding her tow year daughter porridge made of balance nutritional ingredients based on lessons from the wereda health post.
Netsanet, feeding her two-year-old daughter porridge made of balance nutritional ingredients based on lessons from the woreda health post; Sekota woreda, Hamusit kebele ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2017/Nahom Tesfaye

Mothers meet to discuss twice a month. They meet at the health post to demonstrate how to make food for children. They bring whatever food stuff they can find at home such as eggs, flour and milk, then they cook and feed their children.

The Government of Ethiopia has placed malnutrition high on both the political and the development agenda over the past decade. As a result, bold actions have been taken in health and other nutrition-related sectors, putting in place policies, programmes and large-scale interventions to significantly reduce malnutrition among the most vulnerable groups: young children and pregnant and lactating women.

The EU- SHARE project addresses gaps in implementation of the National Nutrition Programme while strengthening nutrition outcomes of major health, food security and livelihoods Government programmes. The primary focus is on the first 1, 000 days of a child’s life, in order to accelerate the decline in stunting.

Sekota is the woredas targeted by the project and has received support with an aim to enhance quality and uptake of nutrition services being delivered to the community. This is done through building the technical capacity of health workers, improving availability of nutrition supplies and sensitizing community members towards proper infant and young child feeding practices.

These interventions have a significant impact in the overall reduction of child malnutrition, especially through contributing to the improvement of nutrition and dietary diversification practices for adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and children younger than five, just like Netsanet and her girls.

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.

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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.

Markets and Menstruation

IMG_2156
Women sell local products in Wukro market, Tigray region. ©UNICEF/2016/Carazo

By Blanca Carazo

WUKRO, TIGRAY, 6 December 2016 – It was Monday morning when we came across the bustling market in Wukro. Tomatoes, onions and cereals are weighed and sold by women sitting on the ground, many of them wearing traditional white shawls.

Crossing through the market stalls, we entered a small office, which operates as a factory and shop as well. Helen Hailu’s open smile welcomed us to this all-in-one space where she and two other women have launched an innovative and ecological business: they produce and sell reusable sanitary pads.

In Ethiopia, as in most countries, menstruation remains a taboo topic, often causing girls and women to be excluded from school and other activities. In Wukro town, this is changing. An integrated water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) intervention being implemented by UNICEF, through its partner, World Vision, is raising awareness about menstrual hygiene among teachers, girls and boys in schools. The programme also promotes businesses such as Helen’s, to ensure that adequate and affordable products are available in the local market.

Helen and Meaza Gebregzabher proudly explained how they were chosen by a women’s association and trained by World Vision to produce reusable sanitary pads before receiving sewing machines and materials. They decided to call their business Raig, the Tigrigna word for ‘vision’.

Starting a business is always challenging, and this business is no exception. “It’s difficult right now to get money,” said Meaza, “some of the materials are bought in Addis Ababa and are expensive. We’re expecting you to raise awareness.” she added, kindly pressuring us, the visiting colleagues from UNICEF and World Vision. Perhaps business will pick up once the urban WASH water scheme is fully functional later this year, allowing easier access for women to clean the reusable pads. Also implemented by World Vision, the UNICEF-funded, Government of Ethiopia-designed programme will provide 100 per cent water coverage in Wukro and five satellite villages.

An agreement has been signed between Raig and seven schools to provide 600 pads, and they aim to also sell to local women. “They are for schools, but also for the people in the village,” said Helen.

IMG_2168
Meaza Gebregzeir shows the materials and the three-unit set they sell, while Helen Hailu sews a new product. ©UNICEF/2016/Carazo

I buy a packet of three reusable sanitary pads for 30 birr (US$1.30) and I’m offered a free sachet of detergent. “It’s a promotion.” explains Meaza. They have to compete with commercial one-time-use pads that are sold at 20 to 30 birr for a packet of ten.

Helen and Meaza’s raig is that girls and women in Wukro use their ecological, effective and handmade sanitary pads while they’re menstruating; with the added benefit of ensuring business for the women.

UNICEF’s raig is that all girls and women have the knowledge, environment and materials they need to have dignity and safety when menstruating. Promoting income-generating activities like this not only contributes to that aim, but it also offers sustainable opportunities for brave women like Helen and Meaza.