Protecting Africa's Children: Case Of Eritrea

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[Global: African Hunger]

Perhaps no African country other than Eritrea has in recent years harvested more unpleasant recognition, notoriety if you like, for being number one in doing what is morally, socially and politically unacceptable.

Eritrea has long been portrayed by global rights bodies as a state incapable or unwilling to respect basic human and democratic rights and support freedom of expression and conscience.

Economics experts have also sharply criticized the government for its inability to feed its citizens – two thirds of them said to be going to bed with little or no food in their bellies.

Adding to its numerous social and economic setbacks, a Pan African study has put Eritrea along with Guinea Bissau in West Africa on top of a list of 52 African countries (excluding fractured Somalia and Morocco occupied W.Sahara) as the worst places for children to grow up. Mauritius and Namibia are said to have the best systems for child protection.

To be sure, Eritrea's neighbor, Ethiopia, has also been given a less child-friendly mark (41st in the list) under an internationally recognized measurement system involving 40 pointers including access to health care and education as well as adoption and implementation of laws and policies that protect children from abuse, exploitation and violence.

Much has been written about each of the 54 African nations regarding their respective obligations to protect their children. However, discussing the Eritrean case a little further is appropriate here because children's rights are also human rights and Eritrea is known to be the worst violator of human rights on the continent.

For Eritrea not to be able to feed its people by all means necessary is the worst violation of human rights. The UN estimates 75 percent of the Eritrean people need food aid. The first victims of a food shortage are children. Children's anxieties of whether there will be bread tomorrow are the worst fears they can have.

It is unethical for the Eritrean government to keep expelling NGO's (Non-Governmental Organizations) and governmental and other food donor agencies while the people are still hungry and its mismanaged, self-reliance based agricultural policies have failed.

Equally unethical and immoral is the government's heavy expenditure on armaments and its funneling of funds and expensive weapons to rebel movements in the Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia while neglecting the need to invest in the country's future by investing in its children.

Children's biggest dream in Eritrea is to get out of the country because their parents and the government have left them without any hope to live for. An Eritrean teen-age girl's aspiration is not to continue with her school but to find some foreign tourist who would care to have unprotected sex with her in order to get pregnant and have a child while she works out future plans to leave the country hopefully with the help of the tourist. She doesn't see herself becoming a wife of the handsome young man next door who has not enough to eat let alone support a wife and a child.

There was a report that came my way the other day of a 16 year old Eritrean who managed to leave her country after marrying a much older European citizen who was visiting Eritrea. Gladly, in this case, the marriage, though legal, has not and will not be consummated in order to protect the short and long term interests of the child.

Many Eritreans have perished in hostile African deserts and open seas trying to reach places of hope, peace and freedom including the young Eritrean mother who was fatally shot earlier this year by Egyptian troops as she tried to enter Israel via the Sinai Desert with her two terrorized children standing by her side.

Leaving ethics aside, this state of affairs is objectionable even from the point of view of the most selfish national interest that any government wishes to support. The Eritrean government's unwillingness to uphold human rights and its failure to protect and invest in its children are strategically and politically untenable seriously undermining national interest and dashing the hope to build a peaceful, united and democratic future. The government has scrambled its priorities and it has the duty to swiftly unscramble them.

You can email Woldu at


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