“Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God”.1
Almost half the 82 million2 population of Ethiopia are under 14 years of age, the children of a new time. Throughout the World the call for justice, freedom and unity is being made loud and clear. It is overwhelmingly the young who cry out, often in pain and anguish, in determination to build a fair and decent world. The 40 million plus children in Ethiopia are the hope and promise of this wonderful country, in their hands lies the possibilities of a new day and a just future.
The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) report, ‘Violence Against Children in Ethiopia, in Their Own Words’, states; “A large proportion of children, our beloved children, are victims of violence everyday around the world. This is especially true in Ethiopia, where approximately 99 percent of the children polled in this study (of 1750) said they had encountered violence in their home, school or community.“3 This estimate if representative of the country at large is staggering and indicates the magnitude of the problem. The issue is of the utmost urgency and should be of primary importance to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), who reassuringly state, “The welfare of children is a priority concern for the Ethiopian Government.”4 On the face of it at least, this sounds like good news for the great numbers of suffering children in Ethiopia.
Illegal exploitation, violence, intimidation and cruelty, the inhumane treatment many children in Ethiopia experience daily at the hands of parents, family members, and teachers, within a society that both adores and ignores the child, professes love whist committing abuse. An umbrella of ignorance and denial casts a dark and painful shadow over the lives of Ethiopia’s little ones, “knowledge of the nature and extent of the problem of violence against children remains limited” (ACPF). Abuse, justified often as cultural behaviour, denying the reality of the pain and suffering of many children.
The Ethiopian government, in the form of the (EPRDF), led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, have signed and ratified The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC is “a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations. These basic human rights set minimum entitlements and freedoms that should be respected by governments. They are founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, egardless of race, colour, gender, language, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status or ability and therefore apply to every human being everywhere.”5
International treatise signed and laws written into the Federal Criminal Code by the Ethiopian Government are clear and firm, to the letter. The law though remains unenforced and indolent, allowing the plague of abuse to continue, grow and intensify. “Ethiopia is not implementing her obligations under the international conventions relating to the rights of children.” (ACPF) By ratifying the UNCRC the Ethiopian authorities, entered into a binding legal agreement in accordance with international law. They agreed to safeguard the children of their country, to protect them from harm and to put an end to the widespread physical abuse, as well as, child prostitution, rape and incest. Violence and abuse within the home the school and the wider community. Violence and abuse throughout the beautiful and to many of its people, sacred land.
The children whose moral and most basic human rights are being trampled on, know well the crime and neglect of the government and those in whose care fate has placed them, over 60% of “children who were interviewed said that they considered violence against children as a human rights issue.” (ACPF).
Home sweet home
Having worked with disadvantaged, vulnerable children in Addis Ababa we witnessed first hand many cases of child abuse, physical, emotional, and mental/psychological and quickly became aware of the scale of the problem, “children regularly face humiliating physical punishment and psychological abuse at home, in school and in the community-at-large,” where “children [in the study] acknowledged the prevalence of sexual violence” (ACPF) Abuse within the home, at the hands of parents, grandparents and extended family members, often goes unreported and unpunished. “The government does not take strict measures against child abusers. Even those that are doing terrible things like rape and abduction are treated leniently. Also parents go unpunished in most cases even when they do terrible things to their children.” Focus group participants aged 10 to 18 years old,
The ACPF study found that, “the primary settings for physical and psychological violence were at home and in school.” Violence towards children within the family is endemic in Ethiopia. “Physical and humiliating punishment is a violation of children’s fundamental human rights. The violence needs to end,”(ACPF) however “there is no [Federal] law [specifically] against corporal punishment at home.”(ACPF) “Provisions in the Civil Code oppress the child and place it under dictatorial parental authority. The code, for example, empowers the guardian “to inflict light bodily punishment on the minor for the purpose of ensuring the latter’s education” (Article 267/2)” (SSBB) The Federal penal code “is [here] in “direct conflict with Article 19.1 of the CRC.” This is immaterial from a legal standpoint as Ethiopia is compelled under the UNCRC to uphold the rights of the child, however in not making violence in the home an offence under Federal law, the EPRDF is endorsing abuse in homes throughout Ethiopia.
The home, a place where children should feel safe and secure, loved and cared for, is all too often the crucible of violence where the child is the victim, the servant the violated, “I know a child who was brought here by her relatives for education in my neighbourhood. She is about 13-years-old. But she has never been sent to school. She works every day. One Saturday I was bored and wanted to play with the girl. I went to her house. I called her name but no answer came. Then I heard a whisper in one of the rooms. I opened the door and saw her in the bed with the father of the family.” Rape within the family and community is widespread, “The study found that fathers, stepfathers, and sometimes close relatives, such as uncles, sexually abused children” 6 it is a hidden subject, barely utter able, a vulgar violation, abhorrent and shameful.
Trust, that bedrock of relationship, shattered.
Domestic violence is often the cause of extended hardship and exploitation. A son or daughter suffering repeated abuse at the hands of a parent or other family member, having nobody to turn to for support, and feeling hopeless and alone, turns often to the street. Escape even into the frightening and dangerous environment of street life is seen as a sanctuary from the violence at home. “When physical punishment becomes intolerable, a child may flee from home, a study on street children in four major Ethiopian towns found that family conflict is the second most common reason for children living on the street,” (ACPF) A girl on the street all to often means prostitution and for boys, criminality, alcohol/drugs and further violence become the cocktail of childhood, poured out at the hands of family and community, sanctioned by the State, who allows the abuse to continue.
In the ACPF study we find disturbing examples of abuse, as given by children themselves: “In our community, most parents beat their children”. 13-year-old boy. “My father used to beat me after tying my neck together with my leg.” 14-year-old boy, “I became a street boy because of the beatings at home.” 12-year-old boy. The following incident was something we came across “I know a man who burnt his stepdaughter with a hot iron.” 14-year-old boy. In the case brought to our attention it was a 12-year-old boy that was burnt by his Grandmother, for the heinous crime of being late home from school.
Whilst there is clearly a responsibility within the family to put an end to the barbaric treatment many children are subjected to, the burden of responsibility, moral and legal under international law falls ultimately to the Government. “State Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” Article 19 UNCRC. It is criminal neglect by the ruling FPRDF, in breach of its Internationally binding agreements that allows the suffering of so many children to carry on.
1. Matthew 19, verse 14 King James Bible
3. Africa Child Policy Forum. Violence Against Children in Ethiopia: In Their Words report. (ACPF)www.crin.org/docs/acpf_eth_words.pdf
4. Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Country Response to the Questionnaire on Violence Against Children By The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. (ERQVAC) www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/CRC/docs/…/responses/Ethiopia.pdf
5. Unicef, http://www.unicef.org/crc/
6. Sticks stones & broken bones. Violence against children in Ethiopia. (SSBB) Save The Children Sweden