Ethiopia School Daze: Where Not Even Schools Are Safe For Children


There are few corners of childhood in Ethiopia that are safe it seems. “In schools, some take advantage of their positions and force students to engage in sex with them in return for better grades and other favors. Such instances take place in primary and secondary schools.” 1 Attending school even becomes a torture then, everyday filled with uncertainty and the fear of physical violence, verbal insults or sexual intimidation. “We feel like we are totally at the mercy of our teachers as they beat us for good or bad reasons.” 12-year-old girl.” (ACPF) “More than 90% of students were punished by their teachers, although 70% of teachers were aware of the negative effects of corporal punishment.” (EPPAC) but continue nevertheless, one may rightly then question the degree of their ‘awareness’. (This article is part of a series; Click the following links for the first and second installments).

In a country where literacy rests at 48% school attendance is crucial. Children trapped and violated in school as in home, will naturally seek escape, “physical and humiliating punishment in schools is usually implicated with school drop-out.” (EPPAC). Education is a road out of poverty and victimization, to freedom and justice. Schools should be exciting centers of self discovery, where the innate potential of all may be sensed, fostered and realized, not hostile environments of fear, repression and control, where prejudices are reinforced and children hurt and humiliated.

Young Ethiopian children. Photo by Graham Peebles
Young Ethiopian children. Photo by Graham Peebles

“Schools are expected to provide safe and protective environment{s} for students. In this respect, the FDRE Constitution of 1995 and the Federal Ministry of Education guidelines discourage the use of corporal punishment in schools.” (VASC)

However sexual and physical attacks persist: “male teachers used their position of authority to influence female students into having sexual affairs with them. Commonly, male students and neighbourhood adolescent boys also perpetrated sexual violence against female students.” (SSBB)

Home, school, community, microcosms of the society at large, sharing cause and effect, as one section of society impacts and colours the other. Family sits at the very heart of the community. The values promoted and expressed, the nature of relationships within the home and the general attitudes adopted, condition the community at large. Teachers who move into the school from a home where children are violated, physically beaten and sexually mistreated, will inevitably express these attitudes to their students. The same applies to adolescent boys loitering outside schools intimidating and sexually harassing young girls as the walk to and from school.

Even though corporal punishment in schools is illegal, “Children stated that physical and psychological punishment is very prevalent in schools and that they experience most forms of punishment there. Those who inflict such violence are usually schoolteachers, guards, class monitors and older boys.” “I lost my pencil. When the school director learnt that I was not writing, he beat me with a plastic hose. My nose was bleeding and I went to the clinic.” Sixth grade student (ACPF). Children should be made aware of their Human Rights, and informed that teachers are breaking the law when they are physically and verbally violent towards them. The school and then the criminal prosecution service should discipline those teachers, who revert to verbal and physical abuse, firstly, depending on the severity of the offence.

Encouragingly there are various positive signs of change highlighted in the STCD report. “There are significant programme interventions being carried out by governmental and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) to address the problem of physical and humiliating punishment of children. Most of the activities towards ending corporal punishment target schools.” (EPPAC) “With a view to promoting child participation and to enabling children to protect their own rights, some NGOs are engaged in establishing and supporting various kinds of clubs in schools.” (EPPAC)

This is all to be welcomed and should be seen as steps in the right direction. At the heart of any change in schools though must be the children and the teaching staff. Training programmes need to be delivered to change teaching methods and broaden teachers understanding of the impact, immediate and long term, of abuse and violence. In (VAGS) various recommendations are made, key amongst these are, “Train all teachers in non-violent methods of disciplining students.” Components, which make teachers and children aware of the Human Rights of the Child, need to be developed, and “Establish at a school level a mechanism for reporting violence and abuse and providing appropriate counseling and support for victims of violence and abuse.”

Let us add to this the recurring theme of inclusion. Systems of complaint and structures that encourage participation by children in the running of schools, e.g. class representatives, regular meetings with teachers and administrators, encouraging input into decisions affecting the life of the school. These and other methods based on participation, will breach divisions and contribute to creating vibrant inclusive education environments, based on respect for all, tolerance and understanding.

Community complicity

Society or community is not an abstract entity existing separately from the individuals in society. The individual is the society. We find the same archaic destructive attitudes to child-care and parenting seen in families being demonstrated within the community, distorting the behavior of adults and older children alike. Gender imbalances animating negative sociological stereotypes, of male superiority and female subservience underlie community sexual violence and intimidation experienced by many young girls. Children are treated as objects within the family and the community, all too often men’s attitudes, old and young towards girls in particular, reflect this, “I remember a girl who was being harassed by a man who said he wanted to marry her. She refused. One day he forcefully took her to his home and raped her. “ (ACPF))

The types of physical violence experienced within the community, mirror those the child is confronted with at home. Slapping at 54% is the most common, with being hit on the head coming in a close second. More subtle perhaps is the ridicule and fear engendering psychological abuse, almost 50% suffering such attacks. In addition to these physical atrocities, child abduction, seduction, sexual harassment and rape all occur within the child’s community.

The law is clear, Ethiopia has signed all manner of international relevant treatise and drafted into the Federal code all agreements, so what is the approach of the police within the community, the first point of contact with the judicial system? “I was beaten by the police for begging.” 13-year-old street boy “I was beaten by the police for sleeping on the sidewalks.” 14-year-old street boy (ACPF) Children, the innocent victims in the home, and school, are at even greater risk within the community. Those whose duty it is to protect and nurture the child, the very source of so much suffering and fear. “Children [in the survey] stated that all types of sexual violence including rape, abduction, early marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and sexual harassment are prevalent in their communities. Most of these humiliating and damaging acts are committed by male vagrants, older boys, teachers, traditional doctors and parents.” (ACPF)

It truly beggars belief, in a country where Christ’s teachings of love and forgiveness as embodied in Orthodox Christianity dominate so many lives, and devout dedication to the church is on a level bordering the fanatical, that the most innocent and vulnerable are used, abused and violated in their homes, their schools and the streets in which they live and play.

(This article is part of a series; Click the following links for the first and second installments).

1. ECPAT. Status of action against sexual exploitation of children (AASEC)

Graham Peebles

Graham Peebles is an independent writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in India, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia where he lived for two years working with acutely disadvantaged children and conducting teacher training programmes. Website:

6 thoughts on “Ethiopia School Daze: Where Not Even Schools Are Safe For Children

  • March 23, 2012 at 6:14 am

    the article is written with very little understanding of Ethiopian experience and cultural context and from a Western point of view and term of reference. The academia and research work written almost on any topic on Africa have the same tone. Lacking in an in depth understanding and know how of the peoples of Ethiopia and undermining the ability of the local people to have the capacity to address the issue.

    My apologies but NGOs seem to aggrandize social issues…..

  • March 23, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Even though, there are issue which still to be improved in Ethiopia, such types of articles are not entirely helpful in anyway. We understand what is happening in Ethiopia. It is not acceptable for an outsider to generalize specific incidents to the whole country. It is not uncommon to see articles which negatively describe the country (famine, war, human right, etc). We do not surprise as this is the only way such types of individuals or organizations get fund. They talk of human right while they do not have a single element of humanity in their personal behavior. Their action only instigates mistrust to the local system, sensation and conflict from which they benefit by raising a lot of fund to make their bread and entertain in beautiful hotels. I advise such individuals to write something which would help the current development efforts the government is making. We know that most of such agencies or individuals are against the government efforts in the name of human right and the like. They think that they survive only if there are problems and conflicts. They sometimes generalize even the misunderstanding between few individuals as the problem of the whole country.

  • March 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    True, there seems to be generalizations in this article. However, some of the problems indicated still persist in Ethiopia. Honestly speaking schools have not been liberated yet. Ethiopian schools have been like that for centuries, even the traditional schools in the church. Corporal punishment and various forms of physical punishment are rampant. There is some improvement in this regime, but way long to go. Physical, verbal and any form of abuse should be completely avoided from schools. Schools are for children to explore themselves and the surrounding communities and the whole world, figure out their gifts and talents and to flourish. Period! Anything that disrupts this is a crime. One can’t understand this unless he/she sees where this can be successfully practiced and the environment be critically helpful for the students all rounded (including academics) performance. Only this way you get liberated, truly creative and responsible citizens that can lift this country out of poverty, corruption and backwardness.

  • March 26, 2012 at 7:28 am

    The condition of the schools in Ethiopia is not invating. Rather the Ethiopian schools, specially the government schools, pushing out the students than pulling in (atracting to schools). Punishing students begin when the students get to the school compound by the school guars, then the unit leaders, followed by the head teachers. This is normal in Ethiopia, the country with 13 months of sunshine, which the students’ faces are cloudy for 10 months. Others such abusing the female students, using grade as inforcements to couplate, specially in third leve is normal practices. Ethiopia is a country which the truth are hide and artifials are widely spoken. May God bless Ethiopia.

  • March 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Well written to reflect the tip of the ice-burg. The thugs ruling Ethiopia are the main cause of the problem.

  • June 16, 2022 at 7:52 pm

    Nicely presented to reflect on the country’s problem and address appropriate remedial steps.


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