Ethiopia: Protect The Children


Where do we look for those responsible for the perpetuation of the underlying cause and continuing practice of child prostitution in Ethiopia? To whom may the children turn and ask why do you allow children as young as 11 years old to be violated, in the most brutal manner. Why do you sit, watching our pain, and acting not? “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”1 “Ethiopian law regarding child prostitution is clear and on the whole ahead of its time. But, with the law not being enforced, [emphasis mine] child prostitution has been an open secret shunned by the law, culture and religion but not exposed and stopped by the same”. (CPAA) (This is the final article  in a series; Click the following links for the first and second and third and fourth installments).

State responsibility is fundamentally the upholding of the law/s to which the State has agreed to, reflecting the underlying moral duty of the ‘elected’ representatives. “The basic principle of “state responsibility” in international law provides that any state who violates its international obligations must be held accountable for its acts. More concretely, the notion of state responsibility means that states, which do not respect their international duties, are responsible to immediately stop their illegal actions, and make reparations to the injured. [Emphasis mine] This is a fundamental principle, which forms part of international customary law, and [emphasis mine] is binding upon all states.”2

Ethiopian children. Photo credit Graham Peebles.
Ethiopian children. Photo credit Graham Peebles.

The ‘injured’ are many, they are the excluded children standing at the street corner in the cold touting for business, they are the helpless ones that live on the fringe of a society that denies their very existence, they are the ignored, the unheard and unloved, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”3 Like Amelework, “The 16 year old child who migrated from Gonder, a city some 850 kilometers from Addis Ababa. She has not been to school and cannot read and write. She married when she was 12 years old and divorced the same year. She left her home and came to Addis Ababa in 1999, started looking for a job; she had no other means than being a commercial sex worker. She explained the problems she faced after she became a commercial sex worker, as follows: adults physically abused her. Some of her clients took back by force the money they paid for sexual service. [She} Suffers from various health problems. Exposure to excessive heat during the day and cold during the night when waiting for some potential client to pick her.” Or, Birtukan, a 17 year- old girl from Selale in North Shewa, about 100km from Addis, who has “been forced into sex without condom many times, has been raped by street boys. Experiences various health problems such as cold, intestinal ailments, etc.”. (CPAA)

Two painful examples of the ‘injured’, alone and frightened in a frightening World, without a voice, without a choice, and without hope.

Protect the children

The Ethiopian Government is legally and morally responsible to uphold “its international obligations”; these are many and varied, but clear and specific. Having signed and ratified all manner of international conventions and treatise, the UNCRC being of primary importance. They have a duty to put in place effective enforcement mechanisms to safeguard the children in their care. In not doing so, they are in violation of International Law and of their solemn duty to the children of Ethiopia. “A state violates international law when it commits an “internationally wrongful act”, which breaches an international obligation that the state was bound by at the time when the act took place. A state is bound to act according to international treaties it signed.” (DIAK) Children, some as young as 11 years old, working as Commercial Sex workers (CSW) is by any standards an “internationally wrongful act”.

In a further example of the government’s neglect and hypocrisy, we find a crucial piece of information in the ECPAT report. “Ethiopia acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 43 in 1991 but has not signed or ratified its Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography”. It begs the question why such a protocol should be optional. Is the wellbeing of the child at risk of being ‘sold’ into prostitution and/or pornography, their safety and sanctity optional?

A government that neglect’s to maintain the safety of the children of their country is in violation of their most basic and sacred moral duty and International Law. Through this omission to decency the Government colludes with those ‘men of immorality’ at the Mercato bus station in Addis, who see the child simply as an object to be sold and used as they would cattle for the slaughter, and encourages the illegal prostitution of children and their use in criminal pornography to continue. “While the crisis is ugly and lethal, just as sad is that it continues to mushroom unabated.” (CPAA)

A web of deceit and contradictions surround the Meles Government that asserts, “The supreme law of the land, which is the Federal Constitution, provides a sound framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of children”4 The national or Federal laws, “have gone through some revision recently, with the principal objective of making them consonant with progressive standards”. Half hearted, the Federal laws are found wanting, in letter and substance, “Ethiopian law outlines a variety of offenses involving sexual acts with children, but falls short of international standards [emphasis mine] for protecting children from prostitution” The Criminal Code fails to prohibit the act of having sex with a child for remuneration.” (CPAA)

This is scandalous. Having signed and ratified the UNCRC however, they are bound by its requirements: Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that: “State parties recognize the rights of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” And in order to add fire to an already blazing inferno of complicity, let us cite the International Labor Organisation (ILO) “Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (No182) has also been ratified by Ethiopia. The Convention defines the worst forms of child labor, which includes prostitution.” and there are many other examples of international conformity.

The EPRDF, as one would expect signs all the right agreements, courts all the right friends and says all the ‘right’ things and appears more concerned to be seen as a friend of ‘The New Rulers of the World’5, than a Brother of the child in need. In addition to ratifying the UNCRC they have signed up to the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child ACRWC (2002) and another UN body, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, as well as the Stockholm Declaration and Agenda for Action (1996 & 2001) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and the Welfare of the Child, however ““Ethiopia is not implementing her obligations under the international conventions relating to the rights of children.” 16-year-old student (ACPF)

Internationally binding Laws are dutifully incorporated into Federal Law, what one would expect and in conformity with the image of acceptability and decency. The many agreements and signatures are but a shadow of dishonesty and apathy upon the darkness and shame that haunts the Government of Ethiopia and destroys the lives of so many of its children. “The Federal Constitution domesticates all international human right instruments,” All well and good, however, whether international or federal, law that sits quietly rotting upon a page of conformity and is not implemented is of little comfort to those like the defenseless child in this atrocious account, “In our neighborhood, a 22-year-old man raped an eight-year-old girl. He was released on bail without being punished for what he did. I am very much disappointed.” Recounts a neighbourhood friend. (ACPF) We should all be “very much disappointed’, indeed shocked and horrified, at this vile abuse and the complacency and dishonesty of the ruling FPRDF party, which signs treatise, claims to care for the children yet acts not to protect them. “The present laws, to a large extent, address the problem of physical and humiliating punishment. However, despite the prevalence of the problem –– which is also acknowledged by law enforcement bodies and the judiciary –– very few alleged perpetrators are being brought before justice.” (EPPAC) Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement is what this eight year old daughter needs, not simply the gloss of a catalogue of legal articles stocked neatly upon the shelf of indifference.

The idealization of change is far from its material manifestation, urgent and sustained action is needed, not simply words, ‘nothing happens by itself, man must act and implements his will”6 Your words alone Prime Minister Meles mean nothing. Nothing to the 14-year-old “housemaid, raped by the employer’s son. She screamed. When we arrived to her rescue, she was covered with blood,” nothing to the 12 tear old boy, who “became a street boy because of the beatings at home ” Nothing Sir to the 12-year-old boy who says, “My mother forced me to inhale the smoke of burning pepper.”(ACPF)

In an imitation of intent to combat child prostitution the EPRDF has formulated a ‘plan’, grandly called ‘Ethiopia’s National Action Plan on Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (2006-2010)’. However as one would imagine where the rights of the Child are not recognized fully, treatise partially adopted and implementation completely lacking, “budget limitations have hindered the development of certain initiatives.” (ERQVAC) The National Plan is in principle a positive step let it look closely at the causes of child abuse, trafficking and prostitution. And with the involvement of local and international groups, and crucially children, parents and community members, instigate education programmes, systems to implement the existing laws and structures of enforcement. In addition to making known International and National Laws in relation to child abuse offenses.

A nationwide strategic delivery of the “international agreements ratified by Ethiopia” is needed, along with education counseling and support programs to help families, communities and most importantly the children, those abused overcome the trauma that is destroying the lives of Ethiopia’s little ones, too many to count. The child frightened, without a voice, isolated and powerless, make easy pickings for a Government that continues in denial of the truth of their neglect and corruption. Sitting behind walled artifices of control and conceit sits a duplicitous regime, that cares little for the men and women of Ethiopia, their well-being and Human Rights and even less it seems for their children.

(This is the final article  in a series; Click the following links for the first and second and third and fourth installments).

1. Nelson Mandela.
2. (DIAK)
3. Mother Teresa
4. Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Country Response to the Questionnaire on Violence Against Children By The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
5. John Pilger. The New Rulers of The World
6. Maitreyas messages. Benjamin Crème.

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:

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