The world has over the last two decades made huge stride in ensuring child protection through general social and economic development, better health care, improvement in nutrition, investment in education and family planning.
The Ethiopian Constitution, inline with international and regional conventions on the rights of children, stresses the responsibility of the state to provide children at various age ranges with special protection. Thus, the government has undertaken policy reforms and put legal instruments and developed guidelines for the protection of women and children.
With a view to backing such an imperative effort, the National Coordinating Body for Multi-Sectorial and Integrated Response to Violence against Women and Children was launched in 2009. It formulated a five-year strategy and action plan with a view to addressing juvenile justice and violence against women. Besides, the Ministry of Justice has set up units in Justice Bureaus to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against children and women in Dire Dawa and Addis Ababa.
The Child Justice Project Office within the Ministry has conducted a study on the compatibility of domestic laws with the rights of children. In Addis Ababa and States capitals, special benches within the courts have been established to deal with offenses committed against children and women. Federal First Instance Court has also introduced closed-circuit television monitors to protect child victims from facing the perpetrator and public at the time of testimony.
The status of child protection, in the past few years, is getting improved though remained as one of the unfinished businesses. According to the National Plan of Action for Children, 2003-2010 and beyond, a large number of children have suffered from the ills of poverty, illiteracy, sexual abuse and exploitation.
International Office of Migration (IOM) estimates that at least 1.2 million children and women between the ages of 8-24 years are victims of trafficking in the country every year. They are most vulnerable to abuses, exploitation and violence. A research conducted recently also indicates that over a quarter of nearly 50,000 women and children involved in prostitution are victims of trafficking.
In 2002, Women's Affairs Department at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA) estimated that 90,000 females were involved in commercial sex work, approximately 20 per cent of them were between 12-18 years old. Since then, the engagement of children in commercial sex work has been increasing particularly in urban centres.
A survey by MoLSA, Central Statistics Agency (CSA) and ILO also showed that about 84 per cent of the country's children below the age of 15 engaged in activities that may be regarded as child labour. Of the stated figure almost 90 per cent of them came from rural areas. Whereas surveys done in 2010 and early 2011 by MoLSA indicated that there are an estimated 12,000 street children in Addis Ababa and nearly 4,000 in Adama. Children identified in these studies were highly mobile. To help them leave the street, they have been targeted and have to be provided with the chance to involve in vocational training programmes.
There was also evidence that children venture into street life as early as four years. The studies also disclosed that the interventions of government and civil societies have not significantly reduced the magnitude of the problem.
A 2003 report on Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (2006-2010) estimated that 12 per cent of the 4.6 million orphans in Ethiopia have lost one or both parents due to AIDS-related causes, even though this figure had decreased to 3.8 million, according to CSA in 2009. A significant percentage of children affected by HIV and AIDS enjoy the protection of their extended families. However, over 40 per cent of children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS-related causes living in such households are headed by girls between the age 14-16 years. These girls heading the household could be victims of rape and attempted rape.
The National Plan of Action for Equality of Opportunity and Full Participation of Persons with Disabilities (2010-2015) estimated that there are about 2.5 million children with disabilities in Ethiopia. However, according to the 2007 national census, there are 231,192 children with disabilities.
Addis Ababa Rehabilitation Centre was the only institution in the country that provide support for needy children in conflict and contact with the law. Two other specialized rehabilitation and reintegration centres were built in Hawassa and Bahir Dar. The Addis Ababa centre is capable of hosting only 150 children. Initially established to accommodate boys, it started admitting girls in 2000, even though it was not built to meet their special needs. In March 2010, 76 male and 20 female children had been placed in the centres.
Severe poverty, HIV and AIDS, disability, internal migration, conflict with the law and other factors, as well as the breakdown of family structures have contributed to the rise in the number of children in need of alternative care. In the absence of formal system of family-based alternatives, many children find themselves in child care institutions. In 2010, two assessments of institutional child care were conducted by Ministry of Justice in collaboration with stakeholders. The assessments indicated that there are 149 child care institutions in Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR, Dire Dawa and Harar.
Almost two thirds of these assessed child care institutions lack a database on children in need of alternative care. It was also founded that 45 per cent of the child care centers had no operating license or their license got expired. Due to lack of financial resources and supervision, and minimal awareness of child protection strategies, mean that institutions providing alternative care to children do not always act in the best interests of the child. There is little knowledge of, and compliance with, official guidelines and standards, and minimal supervision.
Children in institutional care can be exposed to physical violence and often have psychological problems. Over 4,500 children were placed in inter-country adoption in 2009 which was doubled since 2006. This rapid increase in the number of inter-country adoption has raised concerns about the best interests of the child, in these cases, where Ethiopia is not ratified the Hague Convention on Inter-country adoption (1993) and there is lack of safeguards in an unregulated system.
The National Policy on Women notes that 60 per cent of Ethiopians, mostly women, have been subjected to harmful traditional practices. The legislative measure against violations of women's and girls' rights with regards to those practices (the 2005 Criminal Code Articles 561-70) played key role in the success of several prevention measures. There has been progress in reduction of prevalence as a result of increased awareness about harmful traditional practices. A 2008 survey showed that awareness on female genital mutilation increased from 34 to 83 per cent while prevalence fail from 73 per cent to 56 per cent.
In addition to other measures, the government has put in place an ombudsman for children along with other ombudsmen. The role of the ombudsman for children is to serve as a trusted intermediary between the government and people concerned with issues regarding the protection of children, facilitation and provision of services that help further realize children's rights. However, the office needs further support to inform people of its existence and role and to help it in its task to serve as a place where issues can be raised and actions made.
To sum up, strengthening the legislative basis for child protection services and develop polices and strategies based on specified accountability is vital to ensure child rights. There is a need to understand the fact that children need special protection at the community, kebele, woreda, state and federal levels. Mostly, the legislation or polices and strategies to ensure child rights should put and include clear standards, guidelines and supervision system for child protection.