To mark the Day of the African Child, held this year under the theme “30 years after the adoption of the Charter (ACRWR): Accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2040 for an Africa fit for children”, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) calls for nationwide policies and efforts of recovery and rehabilitation of post-conflict areas to be child-centred. As noted in the document, the main objective of the Agenda “is to restore the dignity of the African child through assessments of the achievements and challenges faced towards the effective implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child”, which Ethiopia ratified in 1990.  Among the goals detailed in the Agenda, figures Aspiration 9 which provides that “every child is free from the impact of armed conflicts and other disasters or emergency situations.”

At national level, United Nations (UN) studies estimate that among 23.2 million people in Ethiopia in need of humanitarian assistance, 12.5 million are children.  Of the 1.82 million persons who are internally displaced (IDPs) primarily due to conflict, around 58% are less than 18 years old, of whom 21,659 are unaccompanied. EHRC monitoring of IDP shelters also indicates that the majority of people living in these shelters are women and children. 

In addition, of the reported 670 rural and 100 urban Woredas in Ethiopia, 359 are IDPs host areas while 115 of them are receiving returning IDPs. According to a February 2021 Overview of Humanitarian Needs in Ethiopia by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (UNOCHA), 220 of the IDPs hosting Woredas – 74 in Oromia, 62 in Somali and 39 in Tigray regions – are in extreme (severity 4) humanitarian condition. Similarly, 78 of the 115 IDPs returnees receiving Woredas are in extreme humanitarian condition.

Current estimates are that 53% of the Ethiopian population is under 18, while 43.5% or 45,850,000 is less than 15 years old.  According to a January 2019 report on Multidimensional Child Deprivation in Ethiopia by the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), close to 32 million children are multidimensionally poor. The report defines multidimensional child deprivation (MCD) as non-fulfilment of basic rights listed in the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – also reflected in in the African Children’s Charter. The report indicates that while the problem is prevalent across all regions, MCD incidence is very high in Afar, Amhara, and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region, including Sidama. Oromia, Somali and Beninshangul-Gumuz are also in a similar situation.

While each of these findings are concerning on their own, read together they demand an immediate change of perspective and prioritization. On the one hand, the data shows that since recovery and rehabilitation of areas in or coming out of conflict must take precedence, legislative and policy frameworks designed to coordinate these efforts need to factor the large child population in these areas and adapt accordingly. The impact of the size of this child population should be duly understood and reflected both in the immediate, in terms of provision of humanitarian assistance, and in mid-term recovery strategies, including reconstruction of school and health facilities.

The data also calls for a re-examination of all mid to long term nationwide and regional development and housing, education, health and basic services provision plans, as well as laws and capacity building efforts. This includes provision of psychosocial and physical recovery support to children living in conflict and post conflict areas, as much as a review of executive and justice organs. 

In this connection, recalling that by 2050 the Ethiopian child population is estimated to reach 6% of the African total, EHRC Women and Children’s Rights Department Director Rakeb Messele said that “The Africa Children’s Charter Agenda 2040 provides a sufficiently overarching framework to trigger the necessary changes in resource allocation and approach. It should therefore be taken as a springboard for the required review and amendment of both child related policies and other ones to ensure they are child-friendly.” She pointed that this is the reason Aspiration 2 of the Agenda puts emphasis on bringing about an effective child-friendly national legislative, policy and institutional framework in all Member States.