Kidnapped, Raped, Forced to Marry: Justice at Last for an Ethiopian Teen (In the News)

In 2003, the perpetrator was sentenced to ten years without parole for abduction and rape, and his four accomplices sentenced to eight years each. Incredibly, however, they appealed on the ground that this 13-year-old could not have been raped. “No one would want to rape a girl who is not a virgin. The case was dismissed . . . according to reports, the prosecutor in the case ignored the law by saying that Woineshet would have to prove she was a virgin before the rape – otherwise the perpetrators should be set free.”

After this dismissal, pressure from Equality Now and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association caused Ethiopia to change its Penal Code, which had previously exempted rapists from punishment if they married their victims.

In 2007, Eqauality Now filed a complaint with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of Woineshet, calling on the Ethiopian government to ensure that justice prevail for her. Nine years later, the commission handed down its verdict: Ethiopia, aware of the rape/marriage custom, had not protected this young teen from violence; therefore, “she should be compensated with $150,000 and  Ethiopia should implement ‘escalated and targeted measures to deal with ‘marriage’ by abduction and rape.” The commission also mandated that Ethiopia establish a functioning legal system protecting the rights of all people, particularly girls.

Will Ethiopia pay the money? It cannot be forced to do so, but Equality Now’s global executive director, Yasmeen Hassan, is hopeful: She told the BBC World Service, “Most governments do not like looking bad in regional eyes and in international eyes, and once they sign a treaty they take it seriously.” As for the enormous difficulty of changing a noxious cultural custom like abduction/forced marriage, she says, “Absolutely [the ruling] will have an impact. What I see around the world is that governments do not do anything about these kinds of issues because it is ‘cultural’, it is not their responsibility, but we have seen that whenever governments have stepped in and put a law against the practice, cultural change then happens.”


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