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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, and in their hands lies the possibility 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.“ The issue is of the utmost urgency and should be of primary importance to the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MLSA) reassuringly state, “The welfare of children is a priority concern
for the Ethiopian Government.” On the face of it at least, this sounds like good news for the great numbers of suffering children in Ethiopia. Criminal neglect 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, denies 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). International treatises 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 ,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.” (See below) 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 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). “The primary settings for physical and psychological violence were at home and in school.” (ACPF) Violence towards children within the family is endemic in Ethiopia “children regularly face humiliating physical punishment and psychological abuse at home, in school and in the community-at-large,” where “children 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. Focus group participants (ACPF) aged 10 to 18 years old report that 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. Rape within the family and community is widespread, “The study (Sticks stones & broken bones. Violence against children in Ethiopia Save The Children Sweden-SSBB) found that fathers, stepfathers, and sometimes close relatives, such as uncles, sexually abused children”. 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, feeling hopeless and alone, turns often to the street. 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. 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. According to Article 19 UNCRC,
“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.” 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. Seen but not heard There is little or no freedom of expression throughout Ethiopian civil society. Within the hierarchy of family and the community, including school, children are held ﬁrmly in their subservient place. “In the majority of Ethiopian communities, children are generally viewed as parental property.” (Ending Physical and Humiliating Punishment against children. Save the Children Sweden - EPPAC) This inhibiting restricted state of control extends from the family into the community at large. Children are treated as servants, little better than slaves in fact, “children are not being treated as human beings born and endowed with their own particular interests and the capacity to make decisions for
themselves.” (EPPAC) The child’s human and moral rights are not observed and the children themselves are unaware they have any. They are conditioned, by pervading attitudes as demonstrated by parents, teachers and members of the community into believing they deserve to be mistreated, have no recourse to law or communal support and no avenues of complaint. Excluding children from society, denying them a voice and forcing them to work, maintains methods of repression and abuse, which control children throughout Ethiopian society. “The low status accorded to children and lack of awareness was frequently mentioned by children and adults as the major cause for the continued practice of corporal and other forms of punishments against children.” (EPPAC) Parental abuse, lasting damage There are various types of physical violence and verbal abuse commonly employed to punish and control children. “More than 60 percent of adults in the study admitted to tying up a child with rope or electrical wire.” Over 70% had been hit with a stick or some other weapon. Hitting on the head, slapping, pinching, and whipping with a belt, kneeling or squatting down are all methods of cruelty employed and revealed in the ACPF study. All at the hands of ‘loving’ parents, grandparents and other family members.
Conditioned into violence, children repeat the destructive pattern of behaviour they have been the victims of. Parents need to be made aware of the effects of repeated verbal and physical abuse and that violence towards the child is a criminal offense. Political will and moral responsibility In accordance with the Governments legal obligations must be expressed in the enforcement of the law by the appropriate authorities. Education, deterrents and platforms of expression plus clear channels of recourse for children, will together help change attitudes, curb destructive behavior and empower the young. 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. 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”. 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” (MLSA) 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 their international donors than a Brother of the child in need. Internationally binding Laws are dutifully incorporated into Federal Law, what one would expect, however 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. 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 wellbeing and Human Rights and even less it seems for their children. -*Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity [[ www.thecreatetrust.org ]] supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need.
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