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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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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