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Against all the odds — protecting young girls’ dignity in Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia (Xinhua) -- The transformational tale of underage female Ethiopians, who were once sexually and physically abused, trafficked and abandoned, is by far one of those outstanding commitments and achievements made towards protecting and saving the life and dignity of women.

For many years, the global community has attempted to celebrate women’s achievements in all the political, economic and social spectrums, while calling for gender equality.

These efforts bring together those who have something to say or do to honor women, such as women’s rights advocate groups, academia, hospitals, charities and activists.

However, many of these efforts and gatherings, including the International Women’s Day, comes and goes only to be followed by the next abuse against women to be heard in many parts of the world, including countries in Africa such as Ethiopia.

Hanna Lalango, a sixteen-year-old Ethiopian girl, was gang-raped in 2014 by strangers after being kidnapped by five men in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa while she was onboard a public mini-bus.

Her story is noticeably similar to a tragedy that took place in India, when another young woman boarded a bus, was raped by passengers, and died from her injuries.

However, as reports of such stories emerge on a global level, there are also philanthropies that opt to end or minimize such incidences from happening, and help victims to rehabilitate from the unexpected happening of such incidents.

One of such philanthropies, located in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, is the Organization for Prevention, Rehabilitation and Integration of Female Street Children (OPRIFS), a non-governmental organization that operates in the east African country striving to improve the economic livelihood of women and girls through self-help groups.

OPRIFS, during its 17 years of active involvement in Ethiopia, has so far admitted 3,537 girls into its temporary shelters and helped them to rehabilitate from the act of horror that they have endured.

Majority of these girls were victims of physical and sexual abuse, some others were trafficked, while the remaining others were left abandoned by their families or close relatives.

One of these girls admitted to OPRIFS’s rehabilitation program is Selam Abebe, who was sexually abused by a member of her family-relative while she was just 15 years old.

Afraid of the consequences if her abuser hears the story from third party, Selam was unable to tell what she has been through for some time. However, as time goes, someone whom she used to know at school identified Selam’s condition and, soon after, she was recommended to OPRIFS.

Tsion Degu, child-psychologist at OPRIFS, recalls Selam’s early days at the Organization’s shelter, saying that “Selam’s condition was abysmal and complicated”.

The psychologist further indicated that the incidence has left physical and psychological impact on Selam’s life.

After years of psychological and physical rehabilitation services she has received by trained professionals at the OPRIFS, Selam was partially relived from the traumatic burden of the horrible abuse.

Selam, currently attending her first year college education, is one of thousands of girls who once lost their self-confidence as a result of the tragic abuse, but thanks to OPRIFS, acquired a second chance to turn their lives into a better condition.

Even though majority of admitted girls at OPRIFS were partially able to halt the negative impact of an abuse or trafficking, psychologists such as Tsion, however, indicated that the effect of such incidences may last forever with the victim even after successfully completing the rehabilitation service.

Over 50 underage girls are currently admitted at OPRIFS and they are receiving rehabilitation service by professional psychologists and experts.

These girls receive a one-on-one psychological follow up session with trained psychologists on a weekly basis. As part of the rehabilitation process, they also benefit from a biweekly life skill training session in group.

OPRIFS, in partnership with ChildFund Ethiopia, has also recently launched a year-long technical and vocational training program for over 100 admitted girls. The training is expected to boost the condition of sexually and physically abused girls by evolving them into productive activities.

With all its involvements in rehabilitating and empowering girls, the organization’s sustainability, however, is at stake.

According to Muluken Shiferaw, Director of OPRIFS, this is due to the existing financial constraints that the organization is facing presently.

Ethiopia, with close to 100 million population and home for close to 50 million women,  has signed and ratified both the 1979 UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, and the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of violence against Women, which recognizes violence against women as a violation of human rights.

Unlike the previous times, strong women’s involvement is now witnessed in Ethiopia’s political and socio-economic spheres.

In the political arena, for instance, women’s participation has shown a remarkable progress over the past few years, consisting 38.9 percent of the total seats of the Ethiopian House of Peoples’ Representatives, the highest political organ in the country.

The east African country, through its first and second five-year Growth and Transformation Plans, also envisages women’s active participation in the socio-economic area.


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