Donors appreciative of the joint UNFPA/UNICEF programme to stop FGM/C in Afar Region

By Wossen Mulatu

Trust fund donors visit of the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme acceleration of change to eliminate FGM/C
Visit by Donors to the Social mobilisation interventions to end FGM/C in Wasero Village, Sabure Kebele, Afar Region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mulatu

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.

Trust fund donors visit of the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme acceleration of change to eliminate FGM/C
Group photo of adolescent girls from Aasero village, Sabure Kebele, Awash District in Afar region representing the new generation of uncut girls in the Region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mulatu

“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.

Trust fund donors visit of the UNFPA/UNICEF joint programme acceleration of change to eliminate FGM/C
Momina Gida, 17 years old in Aasero village, Sabure Kebele, Awash District in Afar region represents the new generation of uncut girls in the Region. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mulatu

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.

Crown Princess of Denmark visites programmes supporting girls and women in Afar Region

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Danish Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mr. Mogens Jensen sit for a community conversation on FGM/C & Child Marriage in Afar
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Danish Minister for Trade and Development Cooperation, Mr. Mogens Jensen sit for a community conversation on FGM/C & Child Marriage in Afar ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mahonde

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.

Crown Princess of Denmark is welcomed by an Afar girl during her visit to programmes supporting girls and women in Afar Region
Crown Princess of Denmark is welcomed by an Afar girl during her visit to programmes supporting girls and women in Afar Region, Ethiopia ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Mahonde

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.

In Ethiopia, Danish diplomats observe progress in child protection

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.

Mr. Stephan Schønemann, Ambassador of the Royal Danish Embassy discussing with Ato Bojja Taddesse, Oromia Supreme Court Vice President

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).

A child plays in child friendly bench in Adama high court

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.

Divergent Journeys – Child Marriage and Education

 By Indrias Getachew

Famia Abadir and Rasso Abdella are teenage girls living in Sheneni Village of Dujuma Kebele, located 20 kilometers outside of Dire Dawa town in Eastern Ethiopia. They both share dreams of attending university and working as professionals to advance the rights of girls and women. To succeed, however, they must overcome substantial hurdles. Poverty, traditional views on gender roles and the practice of child marriage threatens to derail their ambitions. Their experiences illustrate some of the challenges that girls, particularly in rural areas, face as they strive to achieve their right to an education.

“No one told me to go to school,” recalls Rasso. “I used to spend my time in the hills with my friends shepherding goats. Some of my friends went to school in the mornings. They would write what that they had learnt in school on stones using charcoal. They would write the alphabet and when they asked me what ‘A’ is, I didn’t know. I told them that I wanted to go to school but I couldn’t afford to buy books. They agreed to share their books with me. That is how I was able to start school. I now go up the mountain to collect wood and prepare charcoal. I then go to town and sell it so I can buy my exercise books – that is how I am able to go to school.”

Kerima Ali, Gender and AIDS Expert at the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education (left) Famia Abadir (midle) and Rasso Abdela (right)
Kerima Ali, Gender and AIDS Expert at the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education (left) Famia Abadir (midle) and Rasso Abdela (right) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014Getachew

Overcoming economic hurdles is a challenge facing rural girls in their efforts to learn, however, the age-old practice of child marriage complicates things further.

In 2011, the dire warning by a rural religious leader that girls who didn’t marry that year would not be able to marry for the next seven years, set off a spate of child marriages that resulted in over 80 girls marrying and dropping out of Dujuma Primary School. Famia, 15 at the time, was one of them.

“I was a young student, still a child,” recalls Famia. “I was going to study with my friends and my cousin told me to come to her place as the elders were gathering there because she was going to get married. She took me from my home and handed me over to her uncle’s son to get me married to him. I did not want to get married. My wish was to go to school and learn, but they abducted and raped me and that is considered marriage. I had no choice.”

Famia Abadir, nine months pregnant
Famia Abadir, nine months pregnant ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Getachew

Famia missed an entire year of school after she was abducted and raped, twice, in what turned out to be failed attempts to marry her against her will and the consent of her parents.

The events in Dujuma in 2011 led to a focused campaign of awareness creation and community mobilisation to end the practice of early marriage. Community discussions aimed at convincing community members about the importance of girls’ education were carried out throughout rural Dire Dawa. Awareness was also raised about the harm caused by child marriages with a view to fostering a consensus to end the practice.

Currently, school clubs are promoting gender equality and empowering the school community to respond in time to prevent child marriages through coordination with local government. Elders and religious leaders are also being engaged to convince the community to abandon the practice of early marriage.

According to local authorities, the efforts to end the practice of early marriage in Dujuma and other rural districts of the Dire Dawa Administrative Region have been successful. Indeed, Dire Dawa has the second lowest regional child marriage rate in Ethiopia after Addis Ababa. The practice is far more widespread in Amhara, Tigray and Benishangul Regions (EDHS 2011).

Transforming age-old customs, however, takes time. Returning to Dujuma in 2013, we found Famia to be nine months pregnant. Famia had left her husband and was once again living with her parents.

“After I give birth I will leave the baby with my family and return to my studies,” says Famia. “Getting married is what did this to me so it is better that I go back to school. Marriage was not good for me.”

Rasso, on the other hand, evaded all pressure to get married and was able to finish eighth grade at Dujuma Primary. Today, she is enrolled in high school in Dire Dawa town, living at the Girls’ Hostel set up by the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education with UNICEF’s support. The hostel enables girls from rural communities with no access to school to continue with their education.

Abduction survivor Gelane Degefa is clear where her priorities lay 

By Elshadai Negash

February 1st 2012 was supposed to be a regular school day for then-15 year old Gelane Degefa*. She started her day in Lugiatebela village, Sebeta Awas district, Oromia region, 25kms from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa; early by making a 30min journey to kick off the day with biology lessons in high school. Three more one-hour classes later, the school day was over and she was on her way home when she spotted a familiar, but disturbing sight from a distance.

“It was Kebede Chala,” she says of her neighbour who had dropped out of school a few years ago to work on his parents’ farm. “I knew immediately that I was in trouble.”

Kebede had persistently courted Degefa for more than 18 months before formally approaching her parents a year earlier to ask for her hand in marriage. “He used to say things like ‘what good would school be for you. I would provide you with everything if you marry me’,” she says. “I told him [Kebede] that I was too young to get married. My parents repeated the same thing when he asked them as well, but he refused to let go. My friends had overheard of his plans to abduct me. I told this to our headmaster. When he heard about this, he stopped bothering me for a while.”

A few minutes later, Kebede  and five of his friends grabbed her and tried their best to stifle her screams. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” she recalls. “But I was very fortunate. It was harvest collection season and some farmers heard my screams and came running to rescue me after we travelled for about 5km. When he and his friends were surrounded by the farmers, they ran away and I was able to escape.”

A Saudi returnee waits in the scorching heat to hop on a transport to take her back to her home area
Picture not related to story

But her aggressor did not stop then. “A few weeks later, he sent elders to my school to complain that we were preventing him from marrying Aleme,” says Beyene Kebede, Degefa’s Chemistry teacher. “Our school director reported this to the police. They gave us hope and told us to inform them if there are any incidents involving Mosisa. He did not bother her from then on and she has been attending school this year without any problems.”

Degefa was not the first girl Kebede tried to abduct and force into early marriage. “He tried to abduct my friend Mergia Abebe, a girl I personally worked hard to convince her parents to allow her to go to school,” says Degefa, who is a member of the Girls Club at her school. “Her parents tried to get marry her to Mosisa, but we worked very hard to convince her to change their mind. She was in the second grade then, now she is a top student and just earned top marks when progressing to grade six.”

By “we”, Degefa is talking about a youth club supported by UNICEF to assist highly vulnerable children and prevent the abduction of school girls. Part of a five-year joint programme with UNICEF and the United Nations Fund for Populations Activities (UNFPA) and funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy (RNE) to Ethiopia, the rights-based approach to adolescents and youth development in Ethiopia has worked to prevent girls like Degefa and Abebe from getting married early after abduction and in some cases stopped marriages after parents had agreed to marry to children to abductors.

“Abduction is a major harmful traditional practice in our area,” says Abegaz Tadesse, UNICEF/UNFPA Joint Programme coordinator in the Sebeta Awas district’s health office. “Many of the abductors are not prosecuted because it is expensive for the families to open and then follow a case to completion. What we are doing with this joint programme is strengthen the support to girls who go to school by using youth clubs to make them aware of their rights and quickly report any approaches by abductors.”

Shebere Telila* is another recipient of the support that youth clubs in the district’s schools provided. The 15-year old, who finished as a second best student in her class this year, was repeatedly approached by older boys who asked her mother for her hand in marriage. “I have dreams of growing up and becoming an engineer to build big buildings and large bridges,” she says. “Now is not the time for me to get married. My mother also knows this and would tell this to people who came to ask for marriage.”

One particular boy, however, did not heed to this and would even brag to her neighbours how he would wait for her one day when she returns from school and make her his. “Whenever someone in our neighbourhood told me about this, I would feel freightened,” she says. “My brother used to walk me to and from school for a while, but I knew that this could not be done forever.”

But rather than staying frightened, Telila, now a member of the youth club in her school; decided to confront her aggressor. “I went to our headmaster’s office with our class prefect to tell him everything,” she says. “Our headmaster then wrote a letter to our kebele [village] office and they instructed him to stop. They called him for a meeting and made him write a letter in front of his friends and family promising that he would not lay hands on me. When I saw that he signed the letter, I was relieved. On his face, I saw the same fear that he would put me through. I knew he would not defy his family and friends to do something to me. I knew I was a free person.”

Today, Telila makes the 30-minute commute from her home to school without any fear that a creepy teenager would emerge from the obscure mountains to attack her. At school, she takes time from studies to discuss her experience with younger girls and give them confidence on how to protect themselves. “Some of the members of our club have been victims and so we know the signs,” she says about the peer-assist mechanism in place at the youth club. “We also visit parents at home to encourage girls to come to school regularly and ask them not to marry their children at a young age.”

And what does she advise other girls who get approached by boys for early marriage?

“To be young and pretty is not a crime. Rather, being quiet when someone is pushing you to get married is the crime. Come out and tell everyone about your problems. Do not keep quiet until it is too late. Just do what I did and seek help. If you do, there is plenty of it available.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity of the girls.

Moving the conversation forwards: Religious leaders vow to join hands for children with UNICEF

Group Photo: UNICEF consultative workshop with religious leaders in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has come a long way, in development terms, since it adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as part of its national agenda. Remarkable achievements have been registered within various social wellbeing parameters. Most notably, the country has achieved MDG 4 – to reduce child mortality by two thirds – three years ahead of schedule. A lot remains to be done, however, particularly in reaching the most disadvantaged children – 3 million are out of school, 40 percent of under-fives are malnourished, only 7 percent of births are formally registered, less than one-third of pregnant women deliver in health facilities, key vaccinations are achieving less than 70 percent coverage and a high number of girls are being exposed to a variety of harmful traditional practices.

While Ethiopia is on track to achieving the majority of MDGs before the 2015 deadline, the involvement of stakeholders, such as religious leaders, is crucial. This is particularly true in reaching the most disadvantaged communities. In line with this premise, UNICEF held a consultative workshop with religious leaders on Monday, 23 June 2014, in Addis Ababa. The half-day workshop targeted the creation of shared values and common ground in bringing a more prosperous future to the children of Ethiopia.

“We aim today to begin a new conversation, enabling us to work together towards a common goal,” said Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, whilst opening the workshop, further emphasising that religious institutions are able to reach out to communities at a grassroots level more effectively than any other social network. They are also instrumental in influencing positive behaviour and social norms, and thus working with these institutions is not considered as a second option. Dr. Salama spoke of the need to scale up UNICEF’s work with religious leaders on what they are uniquely positioned to achieve among their millions of followers – mobilisation for action in the wellbeing of children.

After a brief presentation of UNICEF’s guide on partnerships with religious communities and the situation of children in Ethiopia, the workshop continued with discussions centred around experiences and priority intervention areas.

Best Experiences Shared

The civic engagement of religious institutions in Ethiopia is commendable.  For instance, the experience shared by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church revealed that the church’s 42-year-old development wing has been actively involved in numerous developmental activities placing women and children at the centre of the issue. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission has developed declarations on gender based violence and harmful traditional practices, as well as safe motherhood.  What was interesting for participants was the church’s adoption of a “Development Bible”, which contains 360 daily teachings, incorporating over 45 contextualised messages. These include a focus on gender equality, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), maternal health, HIV/AIDS and Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs).

Similarly, the Ethiopian Muslim Supreme Council shared information of their work towards a “fatwa” (declaration) against FGM/C. A representative from the Council recounted how talking about FGM/C had been a taboo for religious fathers of previous years. However, leaders are now speaking out against the practice and bringing change in project areas. The Council also underlined the need to scale up the intervention, in order to stop the practice altogether. The experience of the Ethiopian Catholic Church in the development of the Child Protection Policy and the concept of ‘serving the whole person’ expressed by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, Mekanyesus, and the Kale Hiwot Church, was also shared with participants.

Three umbrella Forums – the Ethiopian Interfaith Forum for Development Dialogue and Action, the Inter-Religious Council Ethiopia and the Evangelical Church Fellowship Ethiopia – also shared their experiences in mobilising member institutions in various projects. These included maternal and child health, peace building and HIV prevention. The efforts to mainstream the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and HTPs in theological schools was also highlighted.

Way Forward

In the past, UNICEF and other organisations predominantly worked with the development wing of religious institutions. However, it is recognised that this undermines the significant return of actively engaging in the spiritual wings. The spiritual wing reaches over 97% of the nation’s population through various religious structures, whilst the regional presence and coverage of development wings is dependent upon resources.

UNICEF is keen to work with both the spiritual and development wings of the major religious institutions and umbrella forums through a long term strategic partnership. UNICEF is also ready to provide technical support, policy advice and capacity building on the key child related interventions conducted by these institutions. The religious leaders have also reaffirmed their commitment to working with UNICEF.

Before the close of the workshop, participants agreed to form a small working group to develop the partnership framework.

In Ethiopia, new programme to reach out to 403,000 vulnerable adolescent girls’ and boys’

Royal Norwegian Embassy donates NOK 100 million (USD17, 421,026) to adolescent and youth development in Ethiopia
Left to Right: Peter Salama UNICEF representative to Ethiopia, Ambassador Odd-Inge Kvalheim Royal Norwegian Embassy, Mr. Faustin Yao Representative of UNFPA in Ethiopia and Ato Berhanu Feyissa, Director General, Federal HIV/ AIDS prevention control office at the Grant signing ceremony “Royal Norwegian Embassy donates NOK 100 million (USD17, 421,026) to adolescent and youth development in Ethiopia” ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

ADDIS ABABA, 4 June 2014 – Today, the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ethiopia announced a NOK 100 million (USD 17,421, 026 ) grant to  support the joint UNICEF and UNFPA programme on ‘Rights-based Approach to Adolescent and Youth Development in Ethiopia (Phase II – 2014-2017)’. The fund is divided equally between UNICEF and UNFPA and released independently to each agency on a bi-annual basis.

Under the programme, vulnerable adolescent girls and boys will gain improved access to an integrated youth-friendly services on protection and promotion of rights related reproductive health services, HIV/AIDS prevention services, and livelihoods. The funding will benefit 403,000 adolescents and youth aged between 10 and 24 in 30 selected woredas (districts) of six regions (Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR, Afar, Tigray and Addis Ababa City Administration).

His Excellency Ambassador Odd-Inge Kvalheim Royal Norwegian Embassy, speaks at grant signing ceremony
His Excellency Ambassador Odd-Inge Kvalheim Royal Norwegian Embassy, speaks at grant signing ceremony “Royal Norwegian Embassy donates NOK 100 million (USD17, 421,026) to adolescent and youth development in Ethiopia” ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

During the grant signing ceremony, the Royal Norwegian Ambassador to Ethiopia H. E Mr. Odd-Inge Kvalheim said, “Promotion of gender equality, women and children’s rights and human rights is key to fight poverty and promote sustainable development in Ethiopia. Promoting the respect and protection of human rights, is also a cornerstone of Norwegian Policy.” The Ambassador further stated, “The Government of Ethiopia, UNICEF, UNFPA and their partners have achieved good results in the first phase of the program. We will in particular encourage them to continue the good cooperation.”

This joint programme will be implemented in partnership and with active collaboration of various government and non-government partners. The Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (FHAPCO) and key sector ministries: Health, Education, Labour and Social Affairs and Women Children and Youth Affairs will play a pivotal role at all levels of the programme implementation. Furthermore, civil society organizations (CSOs), and community based organizations (CBOs) will be active implementing partners.

The Director General of FHAPCO Ato Berhanu Feyissa said, “The collaborative achievements witnessed with Norwegian Embassy, UNICEF and UNFPA gives us an encouragement that together we can ensure reduction and prevention of new infections among young people. Our common goal is to achieve an AIDS-free generation and ultimately end the AIDS epidemic among our society.”

The joint programme aims to improve the capacity of government and non-government institutions as well as youth-run organizations to fulfil the demand of adolescents and youths in the selected 30 woredas. It will also empower communities and parents to ensure a protective and enabling environment which includes protecting them against gender-based violence, Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs) and violation of their reproductive rights.

Mr. Faustin Yao Representative of UNFPA in Ethiopia speaks at a grant signing ceremony
Mr. Faustin Yao Representative of UNFPA in Ethiopia speaks at a grant signing ceremony “Royal Norwegian Embassy donates NOK 100 million (USD17, 421,026) to adolescent and youth development in Ethiopia” ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

Mr. Faustin Yao, UNFPA Country Representative to Ethiopia, on his part noted, “The programme, through provision of sexual and reproductive health information and services, will empower young girls and boys to be able to make informed decisions for themselves and their families.”

In line with rights-based programming approach, disadvantaged adolescents and youth are recognized as key actors in their own development utilizing Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) and HIV/AIDS prevention services rather than as passive recipients of information, skills, and services.

Building on the experiences gained from the previous joint programme (2007- 2013), the phase II joint programme will provide services on SRH and HIV/AIDS services through youth centres, health facilities, and educational institutions so that adolescents and youths can ultimately make healthy decisions for themselves.

“We commend the Royal Norwegian Government for supporting the Government of Ethiopia, UNFPA and UNICEF to sustain the gains made so far.  UNICEF is firmly committed to enhance the development and protection, care and support of adolescent and young people,” said Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia.