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

(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

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

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

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

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

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

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