In Ethiopia, Child Victims of Sexual Violence Communicate through Art Therapy

UNICEF and Government Communication Affairs Office Provide Training on Ending Violence Against Children

By Frehiwot Yilma

ADAMA, OROMIA REGION, 26 March 2018 – The explanation of the first picture immediately grabbed everyone’s attention in the room as psychologist Mekonnen Belete described how the child that drew it was showing that she had been abused by an uncle.

Here at the UNICEF-supported One-stop Centre in Adama Hospital in the Oromia region, counsellors are using a model adapted from the Thutuzela Care Centres of South Africa to provide timely and comprehensive medical and counselling services to victims of Violence Against Women and Children.

IMG_2972“Usually when children draw disfigured faces it indicates the people they are drawing are not very helpful. As you can see the woman’s mouth is wider than usual to indicate the woman (the child’s mother) was laughing at her when she told her of the abuse she experienced by the uncle who came from the rural areas indicated by the child in a form of a hut,” said Mekonnen, who noted that most of the children he counsels are abused by acquaintances, stepfathers and relatives.

The Adama One-stop Centre was introduced in 2013, the second to be established in Ethiopia after the centre in the Gandhi Hospital in the capital Addis Ababa and it has been successful in rehabilitating survivors as well as prosecuting the perpetrators by offering medical and legal services to victims of sexual violence. In the Oromia region, there are two other such centres in Shashemene and Jimma towns that were established and supported by UNICEF.

The centre is staffed by three prosecutors and four female investigative police officers. Clinical and counselling services are managed by a medical doctor, nurse and a psychologist provided by the hospital. Overall management of the centre is entrusted to the Justice Office, which coordinates through a multi-sectoral steering committee comprising, but not limited to, representatives from the Women, Children Affairs Office, the Health Office, the High/Woreda Court, the Adama Police Commission, the Education Office and selected child care institutions, showing how protecting women and children cannot be left to one party – everyone has a role to play. Concerted efforts bring tangible and sustainable change to ensure that not even one case is treated as the norm.

The second picture, in the sequence of the five pictures drawn by the child as she recovered from the trauma of the abuse by her uncle, is brighter than the first one but still has traces of uncertainty. According to Mekonnen, the flag in the picture indicates the medical and legal services she received. Until the girl gains confidence in these services, the flag remains at the side of the picture, showing her doubt about the system surrounding her.

Before the establishment of the One-stop Centre, victims of sexual violence were hidden for a number of reasons, including the families believing their children (especially if they accused family members), the stigma around sexual violence, blaming the victim, the lack of victim friendly services, denial that the actions took place and the difficulty of proving the abuse.

IMG_2975“The number of victims we support has been increasing from year to year,” said Inspector Etenesh Deresse of the Adama Police, the focal person for women and children cases. “This is not because children were not abused before, but people are now putting their trust in the confidentiality, speed, victim friendly and accuracy of the services provided in the centre. Now, parents and caregivers are bringing alleged reports (to us) just to make sure.”

UNICEF helped the Oromia Police College to revise its curriculum to include issues of violence against children as well as have courts include social workers on the government payroll. Currently, 40 courts have child-friendly benches and the One-stop Centre service has been scaled up from three to 17 hospitals in the region.

In the final picture the child drew, a new thought, the product of several counselling sessions, has emerged – hope for her and justice for her uncle. She was finally able to put herself in the picture and imagine and dream again.

IMG_2971When Mekonnen showed pictures drawn by children who were not abused, the difference in the attitude and aspirations was evident. Those who were not abused were able to write about the subjects they were learning, draw their house or a landscape in a free and lively way, but the ones with some trace of abuse tend to focus on one particular aspect of their life and sometimes were not even be able to depict that.

UNICEF has provided critical support to improve child justice in Ethiopia by providing equipment, supplies and capacity building trainings to the centres as well as other child friendly services such as child friendly courts, child protection units and justice offices in different regions. UNICEF works with the bureau of justice, Women and Children Affairs, the Supreme Court and police to prevent violence against children.

International Children’s Day celebrated big and colourful in Ethiopia

All sectors will come hand in hand to help children in need
International Children’s Day was big and colourful in Assosa, the capital of the Benishangul-Gumuz Region of Ethiopia. The event was graced by the Regional president, HE Ato Ahmed Nasir, Minister of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, HE Zenebu Tadesse, the chair and vice chair of the parliamentary standing committee on women and children, line sector bureau heads, development and humanitarian agencies, and of course children from various backgrounds.

HE Zenebu Tadesse, Minister of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, makes an opening speech International Children's Day celebration in Assosa

HE Zenebu Tadesse’s message highlighted the need to strengthen cooperation and coordination of the all partners to increase efforts for the effective delivery of services to Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs). She stressed on the importance of participating children in all our endeavours.

Ibrahim Sesay, UNICEF Ethiopia’s Child Protection Specialist, key note speech during the day urges partners to strengthen the effort to deliver on promises for children.

“This year’s global theme for the celebration is to “Stop Violence against Children”, with a special emphasis on birth registration, child marriage, positive parenting and non-violent discipline. However, in Ethiopia, this event has been tailored to mark the need to strengthen various initiatives that will improve the situation of vulnerable children.

The name of the vulnerable child that requires our urgent attention and support is called TODAY. This child can no longer wait for all the promises we usually make. The child TODAY is calling for appropriate actions that will improve his/her situation. Our children in Ethiopia are asking from duty bearers – ‘give us what you promised’!

From his conversation and listening to children’s voices, Ibrahim Sesay enlisted five key promises which children are eager to receive from all partners:
1. Making laws/policies and programmes very relevant through effective implementation. Government’s efforts should be tailored in creating an enabling environment for the enforcement of legislative frameworks and policies that have been developed, and improving co-ordination across government departments and partnership with service providers.
2. Building on existing community strengths and resilience
3. Improving public information on the situation of vulnerable children.
4. Empowering children. The need to further promote the active participation and organization of girls and boys in all our programmes.
5. Accelerating the current child care reforms to better protect vulnerable children.

Ibrahim Sesay, Child Protection Specialist, makes a key note statement during International Children's Day celebration in AssosaMr. Sesay affirmed that UNICEF continues to support the government to implement the five point agenda and call for action, leveraging with other development actors to support the core programmes that promote children’s rights in Ethiopia.”

UNICEF launched the #ENDViolence Against Children campaign earlier this year. It urges public acknowledgement of the problem of violence against children and encourages support and engagement with local movements to address a compelling global issue.