Urgent action needed to improve HIV prevention and treatment for young people
NEW YORK/JOHANNESBURG/ADDIS ABABA 1 December 2016 – New HIV infections among adolescents are projected to rise from 250,000 in 2015 to nearly 400,000 annually by 2030 if progress in reaching adolescents stalls, according to a new report released by UNICEF today.
“The world has made tremendous progress in the global effort to end AIDS, but the fight is far from over – especially for children and adolescents,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Every two minutes, another adolescent – most likely a girl – will be infected with HIV. If we want to end AIDS, we need to recapture the urgency this issue deserves — and redouble our efforts to reach every child and every adolescent.”
AIDS remains a leading cause of death among adolescents, claiming the lives of 41,000 adolescents aged 10-19 in 2015, according to the 7th Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS: For Every Child: End AIDS.
The report proposes strategies for accelerating progress in preventing HIV among adolescents and treating those who are already infected. These include:
·Investing in innovation including in locally grown solutions.
·Strengthening data collection.
·Ending gender discrimination including gender-based violence and countering stigma.
·Prioritising efforts to address adolescents’ vulnerabilities by providing combination prevention efforts including pre-exposure prophylaxis, cash transfers and comprehensive sexuality education.
Globally there were nearly 2 million adolescents aged 10 -19 living with HIV in 2015. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most impacted by HIV, girls accounted for three out of every four new infections among adolescents aged 15-19.
Other findings in the report include:
·Remarkable progress has been made in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Globally, 1.6 million new infections among children were averted between 2000 and 2015.
·1.1 million children, adolescents and women were newly infected in 2015.
·Children aged 0–4 living with HIV face the highest risk of AIDS-related deaths, compared with all other age groups, and they are often diagnosed and treated too late. Only half of the babies born to HIV-positive mothers receive an HIV test in their first two months, and the average age that treatment begins among children with vertically acquired HIV in sub-Saharan Africa is nearly 4 years old.
Despite progress in averting new infections and reducing deaths, funding for the AIDS response has declined since 2014, UNICEF said.
In Ethiopia, the prevalence of HIV is low compared to other African countries. In 2011, 1.5 per cent of the population between the ages of 15 and 49 was HIV positive. However, taking into account the country’s large and growing population, the absolute number of people infected with HIV is high. By the end of 2015, the estimated number of people living with HIV was 740,000 including 84,000 children under the age of 15 years.
The 2011 Ethiopian Demographic Health Survey (EDHS) has provided evidence that the epidemic continues to be highly heterogeneous by region, ranging from the lowest (0.9 per cent) in SNNPR to the highest (6.5 per cent) in Gambella. The survey also indicates disparity by gender (1.9 per cent) for adult women whereas (1.0 per cent) for adult men. HIV prevalence is also increasingly concentrated in large urban areas and along major transport corridors. According to the 2015 Ethiopia Public Health Institute (EPHI) study, 67 per cent of people living with HIV reside in urban areas.
Young people are often at a greater risk of infection. They may have shorter relationships and more partners, or engage in risky sexual practices. Also, girls are at a high risk of HIV infection due to gender-based inequality and partner violence.
Over the last ten years, Ethiopia has dramatically reduced new infections and AIDS related deaths by more than 50 per cent (UNAIDS 2015). As part of the global target to end AIDS by 2030, UNAIDS sets new targets for 2020 referred to as 90:90:90 – which implies reaching- 90 per cent of HIV testing, 90 per cent of Antiretroviral Treatment and 90 per cent of reducing viral load. By the end of 2015, Ethiopia had already enabled more than 60 per cent of the people living with HIV to know their status and 52 per cent, or more than 386,000 of people living with HIV to receive Antiretroviral Treatment (Global AIDS Response Progress Reporting ETHIOPIA: 2015 REPORT).
The effort to eliminate mother-to-child transmission is also on track, whereby, 67 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women access and receive Antiretroviral Treatment to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy and delivery (EPHI-2015).
GAMBELLA, Ethiopia, 25 May 2016 – When the attack on the village came, 25-year-old Nyatayin Both held tightly to two of her children, but the raiders still managed to kidnap the two others amidst the panic and commotion.
“I wish I’d had four hands to hold them and save all of my four children,” she recalled, describing the horrific day in mid-April in Ethiopia’s Gambella region when she lost her 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
In a raid of unprecedented scale, some 200 people were killed and 146 children were taken by raiders from neighboring South Sudan, widely described as Murle tribesmen. The Ethiopian military and the local Gambella Government have been negotiating for their slow release ever since.
For Nyatayin, it meant a miracle to see the return of her 9-year-old daughter Nyamuoch.
“At first it was just rumors that some of the children had returned, but later we were told by local officials to come and identify our children,” she said. “I was hoping to see mine, when I spotted my daughter among the many children standing in a circle, I was thrilled and praised the Lord and thanked the government for taking action.”
It was a joy tempered by the fact that her other son was still out there and of course the death of so many relatives that day, including her husband. So far 91 children have been recovered.
UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Ethiopia and partners on a response plan which includes reintegration, psychological support, basic health care and nutrition services as well as providing tents and clothing for each child.
Currently, the children are being cared for at a two-storey guest house of the Gambella Regional Government, where Sarah Nyauony Deng is supervising their care.
“When they arrive here, most of them were so silent and isolated themselves, but after some time, they start to socialize with others, play together and become cheerful,” she said. “Most of them also have injuries on their legs from the long walks.”
Flashbacks from the forest
Nyamuoch recalls that terrible day she was taken from her village that began at dawn with the sound of shots.
“I was still asleep and suddenly I heard gunfire and ran out of the house. I was filled with fear and anxiety,” she said. “I started running along with many other children and adults but they caught most of us and took us to a forest. Where I was, most of the abducted children were strangers except a boy I recognized from my village.”
Nyamuoch said they were constantly talking to them but none of the children understood a word. “I think they were trying to teach us their language,” she said. “I am so happy to be back to my family. My mother and I cried for a long time with happiness and now she is with me again, I am not scared anymore.”
Working with the president’s office and the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, UNICEF has drawn upon a detailed action plan for child protection, including identification, documentation, psycho-social first aid and family assessments to facilitate appropriate rehabilitation services during reunification of the children.
“Currently, we are doing a needs assessment to mobilize resources for the abducted children and their families. Some of the children have lost one or both parents, some their cattle and some their huts as it was burned by the Murle,” said Ocher Ocher Obang of the Bureau of Women and Children’s Affairs in Gambella.
In addition, many in the affected communities are afraid to return to their remote villages for fear of renewed attacks by the Murle.
With the return of the rains, the displaced families need land to till, shelter to live in, as well as additional clothing and health care.
As the Ethiopian and South Sudanese governments strengthen their efforts to recover the remaining abducted children, UNICEF calls for the children’s swift and unconditional return to their families.
“I thought they would lock us in the forest forever,” said Nyamuoch. “When I grow up, I only want to do good things for humanity by becoming a teacher or a doctor – I will never forget this incident.”
Yazew Tagela and Degu Eneyew are both Priests of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and members of the UNICEF supported Community Conversation Group against Child Marriage in the Bandani Kebele (neighbourhood) of the Dangla Woreda (district) in Amhara, Ethiopia.
Both are vehemently against child marriage, but come from different perspectives:
Yazew Tagela, 41, has directly experienced financial loss as a result of marrying his daughters as children.
Yazew Tagela comments: “If I had known before what I know now, I could have helped save so many girls. I married both my daughters at age 12 and 16, and I really regret it. I spent 20,000 ETB (around $1,000) on the marriages of my two girls. I could have bought urban land with that, which would now be worth up to 200,000 ETB ($10,000). The girls lead a rural life like me, and do not enjoy life like their peers who were educated.
“Three years later, neither are yet pregnant, but I really worry about that. With the poor living conditions they have, if they give birth life will get more complicated. If I had not married them, they could have contributed a lot to their country through their being educated.
“My own wife was 15 when we married – I was 25. She showed such childish behaviour but I supported her and she became pregnant straight away.”
“As a priest I am responsible for these marriages as I have to marry a virgin girl, so there is so much pressure on the girls being of younger ages. But I am no longer prepared to bless a marriage if a girl is below the age of 18.
“The government has committed to stop child marriage by 2025, but I know we can stop it way before then. This Kebele is a role model for what can be achieved, a learning site. Everyone here shares ideas and supports each other against child marriage.”
Degu Eneyew, 50, has seen first-hand how girls thrive when they are educated.
Degu Eneyew comments: “At the age of 38 in 2003 I went back to school. It was then that I saw the impact education has on the girl – how well she can do in life. But the community sees education negatively as they associate it with a girl’s exposure to risk. We are teaching the community that if a girl is educated she will support the family. Every Sunday I include in my regular preaching to say “no to child marriage” and send girls to school instead.
“Look at the difference between two families – one which is fast to marry its girls too young, one which does not. You can see life’s consequences from child marriage – giving birth early, scarce resources, limited land. You marry a girl before 18 and it is like killing the very life of the girl. Where families are strong enough to send their girls to school the girls have jobs. Her life will be completely different.
“In the past, a priest would bless the marriage of a child. But today, if the girl is under 18 the priest will not be told. The family will conduct a customary marriage instead with any elder, but witnesses to such marriages are criminally liable.
“Hereafter if a marriage involves parties who are under 18 I will denounce it and report it to the police. If the couple are 18 or above I will bless the marriage. I want everyone to condemn the practise as an evil act.”
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.
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.”
26 MARCH, AFAR REGION, ETHIOPIA – Donors to the UNFPA/UNICEF programme to stop female genital mutilation and cutting in Ethiopia’s Afar region carried out a visit in March to see its progress.
Accompanied by staff from UNFPA and UNICEF, the donors from the governments of Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom and Luxembourg visited programmes run by implementing partner agencies, including the Afar Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BoWCYA), Afar Pastoralist Development Association (ADPA) and the Rohi Weddu Pastoralist Development Association.
Work under the programme is being delivered in two phases – the first ran from 2008-2013 and saw interventions launched in six woredas (districts) out of a total of 32 in the Afar region. The second phase began last year and will run until 2017, covering three more woredas and including advocacy engagement at a federal level.
The implementing partners have responsibility for different aspects of the programme – the regional BoWCYA is responsible for the programme’s overall co-ordination and legal implementation, APDA focuses on reproductive health issues and Rohi Weddu aims to deliver wider community mobilisation and facilitating community dialogue.
In the last five years, the partners, with technical and financial support from UNFPA and UNICEF, have achieved impressive results.
The first phase of the project is running in 74 kebeles (sub-districts) of the six woredas of Zone Three of the region, with a total population of more than 400,000 people. These are: Awash Fentale, Gelaelo (Burimodaytu), Amibara, Gewane, Argoba, and Dulesa.
According to Zahra Humed Ali, Head of the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, Afar is the first Ethiopian region to issue a proclamation on the abandonment of FGM/C.
“Community conversations facilitated by influential leaders in the community including kebele administrators, women’s associations and Traditional Birth Attendants is making a significant impact on the road to the abandonment of FGM/C in the region and religious leaders are leading the movement,” she said.
Eleven woredas in Afar have already abandoned FGM/C, with six doing so with support from the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme.
According to Valerie Browning, Programme Coordinator of Afar Pastoralist Development Association (APDA), the majority of women of reproductive age in Afar have undergone FGM/C and as a result commonly experience urinary retention, kidney disease and problems with menstruation and sexual intercourse.
The APDA is working to identify and support women affected by FGM/C through its work in the region.
The Barbra May Maternity Hospital in Mille is one health institution in the Afar Region to include FGM/C intervention as part of its maternal and health child services. The hospital opened in 2011 and is run by the APDA, treating many conditions related to FGM/C, like opening up infibulations, as well as more routine obstetric procedures.
Asmelash Woldemaraim, Executive Director of Rohi Weddu, says the UNFPA/UNICEF programme has dramatically raised awareness on FGM/C.
This has brought about a rapid decline in the prevalence of the practice, with 39 per cent of women affected in 2013, compared with 90 per cent in 2008.
Recognising the influential nature of the Afar social and clan structures, the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme focuses on changing the attitudes of community leaders by creating a core group of advocates for change.
The group consists of senior regional government officials, religious and clan leaders, elders and FGM/C practitioners. The aim is to change the attitudes of people within this group, prompting community dialogue to bring about a consensus within the wider community.
Data collected at the sub-district and regional level show that more than 7,000 girls in the six districts of Zone Three of the Afar region have remained uncut since the start of the programme.
Following the visit, the donors acknowledged the commitment of the Afar regional government, as well as the two UN agencies running the joint programme, to bringing about a significant reduction of the rate of FGM/C in the region.
They agreed on the need to increase funding, as resources are stretched, even though the programme is delivering results and highlighted the importance of reaching less accessible areas.
This is a particular challenge, given the pastoralist nature of the community, with 90 per cent of livelihoods being reliant on subsistence livestock production. The region’s harsh climate is another challenge.
Finally, the donors expressed their belief that breaking down taboos and educating the community about the problems posed by FGM/C will bring about positive change – the hope is that once the majority can be convinced that this practice is wrong, the message will spread among more communities and end it for good.
17 February 2015, Semera, Afar Region: A delegation led by Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark paid a one day visit to the Afar Region of Ethiopia to observe first-hand the implementation of the Joint Programme on eliminating female genital mutilation/ cutting (FGM/C) supported by UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund, and UNICEF, United Nations Children’s Fund as well as a programme on the prevention of child marriage. She was able to see efforts undertaken by community members regarding the abandonment of the two harmful practices and institutional responses at mitigating complications. Crown Princess Mary was accompanied by the Danish Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mr. Mogens Jensen.
The Joint Programme addresses the issue of FGM/C not only because of its harmful impact on the reproductive and sexual health of women, but also because it violates women’s and girls’ fundamental human rights. This harmful practice has both immediate and long term consequences to the health and well-being of girls and women, negatively impacting maternal and neonatal health outcomes, and also increasing the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. The practice often leaves girls with severe pain and trauma, shock, hemorrhage, sepsis, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region, and urinary infection, among other complications. Girls’ and women’s health, their empowerment, and the realization of their rights are negatively affected by FGM as well as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals related to reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS.
In the Afar Region girls and women are subjected to the worst form of the practice – infibulation – usually at the ages of seven to nine. In some districts in Afar, this harmful traditional practice is even exercised within some days after the birth of the child. The rights-based approach affirms that well–being, bodily integrity and health are influenced by the way a human being is valued.
In the first leg of her visit, Crown Princess Mary met different community members at a locality in the Afambo District and observed community dialogues involving different sectors of the community on the abandonment of FGM/C and child marriage. In addition, she observed a discussion of adolescent girls’ club and interacted with the participants. This intervention which aims at integrating efforts at the abandonment of FGM/C and child marriage is under implementation for the past two years in seven localities in the Afambo District and is coordinated by the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs of the Afar Region. Woizero Zahara Humed, Head of the Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, provided the visitors with an overall briefing regarding the programme. Crown Princess Mary interacted with community members, especially women and girls, and appreciated the efforts being undertaken to abandon the harmful practices and empower girls and women.
The Ethiopian Demographic and Health Survey of 2011puts the median age at first marriage for the Afar Region as the third lowest in the country at age 16.5. Moreover, despite the progresses made in recent years, the prevalence of FGM/C remains very high in the Region. According to the 2011 Welfare Monitoring Survey the prevalence of FGM/C is highest in the Region at 60 per cent. But six districts in the Region in which the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on Accelerated Abandonment of FGM/C is being implemented have publicly declare abandonment of the practice since the initiative was launched in 2008.
For the second leg of her visit, Crown Princess Mary was taken to the Barbara May Maternity Hospital in Mille District, where she observed services being provided by the hospital at tackling complications resulting from FGM/C and child marriage, such as teenage pregnancy and childbirth. She was given a tour of the facilities of the hospital by Valerie Browning – Head of the Afar Pastoralist Development Association which is running the hospital – and the medical staff of the hospital. It was indicated during the visit that the hospital which has been operational since 2011 is providing life-saving delivery services and treating obstetric complications created by FGM/C. Crown Princess Mary also got the chance to interact with patients during her visit to the hospital.
Crown Princess Mary admired the commitment of the Afar Region in tackling FGM and child marriage when she met Awel Arba, Vice President of the Afar Region, later in the day. She appreciated the support being provided by UNFPA and UNICEF. The Vice President assured the Crown Princess that his Region was keen in continuing efforts at improving the lives of girls and women and remarked that his Region looked forward to support from Denmark.
During the Girl’s Summit held in London in June 2014, the Government of Ethiopia has committed to eliminate both FGM/C and child marriage by 2025.
The visit was jointly organized by the Embassy of Denmark, UNFPA, and UNICEF.
The Danish Government has been providing support to the Justice for Children programme, through UNICEF Ethiopia, since June 2007. On June 20, 2014, the Danish Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr Stephan Schønemann, and the Deputy Head of Mission, Mrs Lotte Machon, visited Adama to gain an insight into the Child Protection services provided to women and children.
The Child-Friendly Justice Programme is designed and implemented by governmental and non-governmental partner organisations, with technical and financial support from UNICEF. At governmental level, the Programme is jointly coordinated and implemented by the Federal Supreme Court, the Federal Ministry of Justice, and regional supreme courts and bureaus of justice, in close collaboration with institutions involved in the justice, health, social and education sectors, as well as civil society organisations.
At the Adama zonal police station, the visitors met with Inspector Shitu Likisa and Ms Welansa Negash – focal persons of the Child Protection Unit (CPU) for the Oromia Region and the Adama zonal police station, respectively. They explained the objectives and processes of the CPU, as well as the challenges faced in the day-to-day work.
The Child Protection Unit aims to improve the treatment of children by law enforcement organs, whilst ensuring alternatives to custodial measures in the treatment of young offenders. It was established within the compounds of the Adama town police station, as a separate block close to the outside gates. The CPU contains three furnished rooms, which are used for the investigation of cases, as well as providing distinct temporary accommodation, including toilet facilities, separately for boys and girls. It is staffed by one female police officer and one social worker, the latter of which is also responsible for the child friendly bench and child friendly court at the Adama High Court. The police officer was provided with specialised training on the legal, operational and psychological aspects of the work.
Despite UNICEF’s investments into the CPU, in the form of training and stationary, as well as the renovation and furnishing of both the investigation rooms and accommodation, there are still remaining gaps to be filled.
“When we find or receive very young children who need our support, we do not have a dedicated place for them to stay. Either myself or other police officers take the babies home because they need food and special care,” Welansa explains. “Also, feeding the children who are in our care is a big issue, as there is no budget allocated for this.”
Adama is a big town, with a large population of children. Some come by themselves to seek work or a better quality of life, but many are brought by brokers and child traffickers. The Adama community is well aware of the CPU and, through their active engagement, children are brought in to be assisted by the Family Tracing and Reunification Services or social workers, and possibly directed to legal and/or medical aid.
“Presently, we have one boy in our care. He came from the Tigray Region with his older brother, who was depriving him of food and beating him. The young boy, who is about 11 years old, ran away and ended up alone on the streets,” the police officer continued. “He came to our unit and now we are helping to take him back to his family – that is his wish.”
Since the unit opened, they have helped around 570 children to reunite with their families.
Children in contact with the law are provided with a safe sleeping space and special treatment, without having to mix with adult offenders. Their parents are immediately contacted, and both the social worker and police officer (female officer) provide counselling and investigation. This results in a decision either for release into the care of their parents/guardians; referral to the community-based diversion programme or to present them to the child friendly bench. Psychosocial services, in the form of counselling, shelter, medical care etc, are provided to child victims and alleged offenders using the referral pathway that was made operational in the town with the support of UNICEF.
The next place visited by the team, accompanied by UNICEF staff members, was the OneStop Centre, located at the Adama Referral Hospital. The One Stop Centre was introduced in 2013 and aims to provide timely and comprehensive legal, medical and counselling services to survivors of violence, thereby minimising secondary victimisation. It also facilitates the proper collection and preservation of evidence, leading to improved rates of prosecution and conviction, and a reduction in the cycle time for finalising cases on violence against women and children (VAWC).The Centre was set up inside the premises of the Adama Referral Hospital in a secluded block, in order to maintain the privacy of beneficiaries. The Centre is staffed by four prosecutors and four female investigation police officers who work on a rotational basis. Clinical and counselling services are managed by a medical doctor, nurse and psychiatrist, who are deployed by the Hospital. The overall management of the Centre is entrusted to top level inter-agency team, comprising of representatives from the Regional Bureau of Justice; the Regional Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs; the Regional Bureau of Health; the Regional Supreme Court and the Regional Police Commission.
“This centre deals with about one to two cases per day and, by deploying female police officers, we prevent the victims from secondary victimisation,” explains Zewdu Mulugeta, prosecutor at the Bureau of Justice, Adama
One of the recent cases to come to this office was the attempted rape of a five-year-old girl. The perpetrator was given a 14-year prison sentence.
Equipped with new knowledge and insights about the functioning of the One-Stop Centre, the Danish diplomats were taken to the Adama High Court to visit the Child Friendly Benches (for both child victims and alleged child offenders). Here, Emebet Hailu, a social worker, explained the functioning of the Child-friendly Bench, which was established inside the premises of the Adama Zonal Court to adjudicate cases involving child victims and witnesses, as well as alleged child offenders. The initiative entails a specially designed and well-equipped courtroom, which hears cases involving child victims and witnesses of violence. This includes the added security of close-circuit cameras. The separate room is specially designed in a child-friendly setting, in order to put children at ease and provide testimony without facing the alleged perpetrator. The child sitting in the special room is assisted by an intermediary, transmitting the questions forwarded from the main courtroom to the child and the responses of the child are then transmitted back to the courtroom. The sessions are closed, with only a selected audience allowed to take part in the proceedings. The Child-friendly Bench aims to protect child and women victims of sexual violence from secondary victimisation during the judicial process and to enable them to give their testimonies freely and comfortably in a child-sensitive environment.
In the case of alleged child offenders, the child-friendly bench has a unique courtroom setting, which is adapted to simulate environments familiar to the children in schools and with families. Instead of the raised platform and assigned positions for judges, the prosecution and the accused, everyone sits around the same table. In addition to the child-friendly physical setting, the hearing process is managed in an informal and non-adversarial atmosphere, avoiding the use of technical language and the wearing of robes by judges, prosecutors and legal representatives.
Children who appear before the special bench and police units, and require family tracing, reunification and reintegration services are identified and referred to the Regional Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BOWCYA).
At the High Court, the visiting team met and discussed with the Vice-President of the Regional Supreme Court, the President of Adama High Court, the Adama University, who provide free legal aid, and the child friendly justice steering Committee. Mr Schønemann also had the opportunity to discuss with male and female litigants in the court. A father explained how the Court had helped him to gain custody over his three eldest children and that now he is trying to obtain custody over his youngest, who is under five years of age and still with the mother.
There was also the disheartening case of a woman, who came with her 17year-old daughter and new-born granddaughter. The daughter was raped by the landlord of her family home and gave birth to a child as a result. The perpetrator intimidated the girl not to implicate him within the incident. Both the mother and grandmother of the new-born child are terrified, but sued the perpetrator for the cost of a DNA test to prove that he is the father and therefore required to pay maintenance for his child. The DNA test is very costly – about ETB 3000 (US$ 180) for women. The family is poor and does not have the funds to pay for this. Through the service provided by the Court, they are now trying to put in an application for DNA testing.
The Ambassador thanked the Court staff and partners for their important work and addressed the questions raised on capacity development and additional resource allocation to bridge existing gaps and strengthen the child justice system.
As a result of UNICEF’s partnership with the Regional Supreme Court, the Regional Police Commission and the Regional Bureau of Justice, the Child Protection Unit (CPU) and the child friendly benches in Adama Town were further expanded into six other towns in the Oromia Region – Sabata, Sululta,Wolisso,Jimma, Nekemte and Ambo) in 2013. Presently, UNICEF is supporting seven zones in the Oromia Region; and, while this is a good start, the expansion of child friendly justice services into additional zonal and woreda (district) towns is recommended. In addition, UNICEF highlights that the next steps will focus on the provision of in-service training to newly assigned justice and social welfare personnel; the strengthening of legal aid services managed by the university legal aid clinic; the strengthening of the community based diversion facility and improvements to the child justice data management system.