Ethiopia: Let Children Treat Their Own Concerns

The United Nations, in its the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has decreed that ‘every child is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.’ The preamble of the convention also bestows the child special protection and care due to his physical and mental immaturity. This provision includes appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.

In 1991, Ethiopia ratified The Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 20, 1989. The nation also adopted the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in 2002.

Since the nation’s constitution states the practicability of all the international laws Ethiopia has ratified, the UN Convention and the African Charter would substantiate the enforcement of the right of the child stipulated in the Constitution. Consequently, the implementation of the international, regional and national laws for the child have so far become comprehensive instruments that grant children in Ethiopia the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The child’s situation before the Constitution, however, was that the rights of the child in most cultures were very limited. For instance, although parents talked to their children about domestic issues, children used to listen passively, as parents took the leading role. Here, the only roles of the child were like receiving the orders and exercising accordingly. Children in these cultures did not have the right to express their views in front of their parents.

A fairly better part of the situation is that adults after the age of 15 might share ideas with their parents, yet with limitations, while girls could do the same after they got married. This was actually due to an erroneously perceived ‘significance of the child.’

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Notwithstanding, the child’s situation has changed over the past two decades due to the enshrinement of their rights in the Constitution and their implementation. According to the Ministry of Women and Children, the wide ranging assignments undertaken so far have facilitated favorable environment to children so that they could grow up with their rights and safety protected. In a recently marked World Children’s Day at the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Minister Demitu Hambissa said that the government do not only enshrined the rights of the child under special article, but also formulated child policy, strategy and directives. She also indicated that her government has been striving for the implementation in collaboration with different stakeholders and partner organizations.

Besides, her government has placed due attention upon protecting the rights of vulnerable children. In collaboration with different stakeholders and partners, for instance, the government has identified those children living on streets, provided psychological and skills training, and united them with their families and the community.

One of the longstanding partners in Ethiopia’s children’s affairs, UNICEF, has also similar statements on the progress so far. UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia Gillian Mellsop commended the Government for its strong commitment to child rights, including child participation. She said that the Government has taken decisive measures to increase child participation in communities across the country. “For instance, children in Ethiopia actively participate through child parliaments and child rights clubs.”

She also witnessed that child parliaments and other mechanisms for meaningful child participation play a key role in the systematic inclusion of children’s voices in the public policy discourse.

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Mellsop further mentioned that the Government’s commitment to promoting child rights in Ethiopia is also reflected in its efforts towards adopting a comprehensive law governing vital events including the registration of births and deaths. “Birth registration is a fundamental right as well as a precondition for the protection of other rights and access to essential social services.”

Her appreciation also extended to the Government’s commitment to ensuring birth registration of refugee children in Ethiopia. The remarkable development achievements Ethiopia has gained, particularly during the period of the Millennium Development Goals, highlights the strong commitment and leadership by the Government. UNICEF was there as the Government of Ethiopia, with the support of its development partners, embarked on an ambitious development agenda that lifted millions of children out of poverty and deprivation, built a national health care system and achieved near universal primary school enrolment.

Moreover, the more inclusive development scheme the government launched in alignment with the Sustainable Development Plan shows its commitment to ensure the rights and development of children.

Much as the achievements so far, maintaining the gains and deriving more favorable opportunities to children requires the commitment of every stakeholder. That is why the minister called upon that stakeholders should ponder on the respective roles they should play for the implementation of Conventions on the Rights of the Child. The efforts and fruits so far can only be sustained when every concerned party strives in synergy and make the issue public agenda that transcends beyond campaign.

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