Child Protection continues to be a linchpin value of our work and we are constantly looking for ways to ensure the focus on care and protection of children. We hope to make a lasting impact on children’s lives, and ensuring that they are protected whilst being involved with legal systems can make a huge difference. ChildFund Ireland with Irish Aid funding, through our partner ChildFund Ethiopia successfully implemented a Child Protection and Prevention of Gender Based Violence (GBV) project in Ethiopia. Collaborating with the district Women and Children’s Affairs, the programme based in Siraro and Shashemene is reaping benefits today.
Around the same time, the government of Ethiopia had undertaken a series of Justice Reform Programmes, one of which is the Juvenile Justice Improvement Project – the construction of a Child Friendly Court in Shashamane Woreda was part of this. A building was refurbished, rooms were made available, the lawyers and staff were trained and the system was put in place but some vital pieces of equipment were missing with no funding available to supply it due to budget restraints.
These gaps were identified during a field monitoring visit by ChildFund Ireland, with our team finding that a lack of facilities in the courts was hindering our efforts to ensure children were adequately protected during the trial process.
Protecting Children During Trial
To protect children during the trial process, the court was designed so that the accused would give evidence from an adjacent but separate room. However, the court lacked video equipment, toys and dolls which help very young GBV survivors to tell their story, and furniture for family members and those involved in the cases.
Through a Direct Action activity, Bank of Ireland staff generously assisted in getting the equipment and resources necessary to protect children while in court. Office furniture was bought to facilitate those coming to report cases. A video camera was purchased to allow survivors to identify perpetrators without being seen and allowing for the observation of survivors during play to witness any erratic or telling behaviour. A television screen, microphone and recording equipment, a conference table and chairs, separate toys for boys and girls including playing puzzles, were also purchased. By securing this equipment, children are now better protected and supported in presenting evidence in the Child Friendly Court in Shashemene, ensuring that when a case is brought to the court a survivor no longer has to come face to face with the accused. Crimes against children are successfully tried here.
The equipment is now run with a generator owing to the frequent power outages; a battery pack and a digital sound recorder have been purchased with budget support from government to further strengthen the child friendly court. Interviews between the investigating police, prosecutors and children are recorded by the digital sound recorder and contents cannot be changed.
Ato Hirpo Ireso, President of Shashemene Court, noted that so far 30 representatives from district and zonal administrations of Oromia regional state have visited the child friendly court to get experience on how to establish their own. Out of these, 8 district and 2 zonal courts established similar courts. The child friendly court also facilitated the hearing of critical child-related cases from neighbouring areas, making full use of the resources.
The Court President reports that in the past six months alone, September, 2013 to February 2014, 16 children’s cases have been seen by Shashemene Court. The court is functioning well and has paved the way for the establishment of 10 other child friendly courts in the Oromia regional state.
The Regional Government’s support of the project through the provision of additional equipment has further strengthened the system and we hope to see the positive effects spread. We owe Bank of Ireland staff a big thank you for supporting a programme which has really helped children to be protected while going through legal processes and as more courts will follow this example, children in these cases can be afforded greater protection.