Three years ago in one neighbourhood of the Oromia region in Ethiopia, 429 children between the ages of seven and 14 were out of school. Many of these children were employed in domestic labour, selling sugarcane on the street or driving horse carts. Recognising that these children were being exploited, a multi-stakeholder group decided to take action. The group, led by the Forum of Sustainable Child Empowerment (FSCE), the local ECPAT network member, developed a plan to get these children into school. As a result, the government allotted a plot of land and another organisation funded the construction of a school. Today, all 429 children remain enrolled in school.
The neighbourhood now prides itself on being free of child labour, largely as a result of the unique approach that FSCE employs. Executive Director, Meseret Tadesse explains, “This came to a reality because all actors, the government, the community, children and all of us engaged together towards the protection of children.” Through engaging multiple stakeholders from across sectors, FSCE implemented a programme to help supplement household income when children are taken out of the labour market. Mr. Tadesse explains that all parties feel they are serving their children better because the whole community is working together.
FSCE is dedicated to protecting and serving disadvantaged children and working with communities and other stakeholders. In the FSCE model, the community looks at child protection issues within their neighbourhoods and then carries out a process to deal with these issues. Mr. Tadesse emphasises the importance of a community based-multi-stakeholder child protection strategy and says the role of FSCE is to initiate a process where all actors are engaged in the issues, including, government, families, community groups and children. He comments, “You can’t protect a child through the engagement of a single actor.”
Mr. Tadesse believes that there are multiple causes that make children vulnerable to abuse, harm and exploitation. For that reason, he advocates for a holistic approach that motivates all stakeholders to create a safe environment for children. To change societal norms that currently hinder child protection, Mr. Tadesse stresses dialogue in order to change mindsets. “That will be an environment where children can grow safe,” he explains.
Meseret Tadesse has been engaged in the field of child protection for 30 years, beginning with work in Northern Ethiopia as a social worker. He comments, “I love looking after children. I enjoy taking care of children. I grew up looking after children”. Mr. Tadesse has worked as a social worker, project manager and team leader for international organisations and the Ethiopian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Prior to joining FSCE, he was the National General Secretary of Young Men’s Christian Association of Ethiopia (YMCA).