Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and provides for a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted, depending on the severity of the case. The law does not expressly address spousal rape. The government did not fully enforce the law. The law generally covers violence against a marriage partner or a person cohabiting in an irregular union without specifically mentioning spousal rape. Some judges interpreted this article to cover spousal rape cases, but others overlooked such cases.
The Tigray Women’s Association reported that 133 girls were sexually assaulted in Tigray Region between April and May. The Addis Ababa Women, Children, and Youth Affairs Bureau received 101 reports of child rape from three hospitals during the same period. Following this large number of reports, the government and CSOs launched initiatives that improved reporting and law enforcement regarding rape and sexual assaults, and provided psychological support to victims. The regional Women and Child Affairs Bureaus worked with police to bring suspects to justice, but these efforts yielded little because of poor community awareness of the law and due difficulties in finding witnesses willing to testify. Domestic CSOs also assisted victims of gender-based violence. The United Nations supported Marie Stopes Ethiopia, a CSO working on reproductive health, to set up two hotlines and provide counselling services to victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence.
Domestic violence is illegal, but government enforcement of the law was inconsistent. Depending on the severity of injuries inflicted, penalties for conviction ranged from small fines to 15 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. According to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, 34 percent of married women and girls between ages 15 and 49 had experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence from spouses.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law criminalizes the practice of clitoridectomy and provides for three months’ imprisonment or a monetary fine if convicted. Conviction of infibulation of the genitals (the most extreme and dangerous form of FGM/C) is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to government sources, there were no criminal prosecutions of FGM/C, and media reported this was due to lack of enforcement of the law.
UNICEF’s annual profile of FGM/C indicated that 65 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 were circumcised. The prevalence of female circumcision was highest in the Somali Region (99 percent) and lowest in the Tigray Region (23 percent). The greatest reduction in the prevalence of FGM/C in the country was in Oromia according to UNICEF. The level of FGM/C, however, has not changed significantly in the Somali Region according to the UNICEF report. It was less common in urban areas.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Marriage by abduction is illegal, although it continued in some regions despite the government’s attempts to combat the practice. Between April and May, abduction to commit forced marriage surged in the country because of school closures due to COVID-19. Forced sexual relationships accompanied most marriages by abduction, and women often experienced physical abuse during the abduction. Abductions led to conflicts among families, communities, and ethnic groups. In cases of abduction, the perpetrator did not face punishment if the victim agreed to marry the perpetrator.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was widespread. The law prescribes penalties of 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment, but authorities generally did not enforce the law. In September 2019 the government regulated workplace sexual harassment and sexual violence in its revised labor law.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals generally have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; have the right to manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
The constitution protects the rights of women to access family planning resources and safeguard their health during pregnancy and childbirth. Although the law criminalizes marriage by abduction–which often involved rape–the persistence of this traditional practice limited reproductive rights. According to the 2016 Demographic Health Survey (DHS), 85 percent of married or in-union women in the country made decisions on their health care; 94 percent had autonomy in deciding to use contraception; but only 53 percent could say no to sex. Overall, only 45 percent of married or in-union women aged 15 to 49 made their own decisions in all three key areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights: deciding on their own health care, deciding on the use of contraception, and saying no to sex. While 53 percent of married or in-union women reported being able to say no to sex, the law does not protect this right.
According to the 2016 DHS, 61 percent of women of reproductive age had access to family planning with modern methods. According to 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) data, the country had an adolescent birth rate (per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 years) of 79.5. Despite nationwide access to contraception, negative cultural stigma around premarital sex reduced utilization of contraception. Transportation problems in remote areas of the country also reduced utilization of contraception. According to a small-scale DHS in 2019, the modern contraception prevalence rate was 41 percent, up from 35 percent in 2016. Prevalence and utilization of contraception varied widely among regions.
Skilled health personnel attended 28 percent of births according to 2019 WHO data. Although the government provided free maternal and child health services, challenges from resource constraints and poor transportation in remote areas persisted for women in accessing skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. Lack of skilled health attendance during pregnancy correlated with the country’s high maternal mortality rate–401 deaths per 100,000 live births according to 2017 WHO data. Major causes of maternal mortality included hemorrhage, obstructed labor/ruptured uterus, pregnancy-induced hypertension, sepsis, and unsafe abortion.
The law criminalizes FGM/C and stitching female genitalia. The law provides punishments of imprisonment of at least three months or a fine for female circumcision. Cutting and stitching female genitalia is punishable with imprisonment for three years to five years. Girls and women who have had FGM/C were significantly more likely to have adverse obstetric outcomes, including maternal death. Risk of maternal morbidity increased with more extensive forms of FGM/C. While access to some sexual and reproductive health services was available for survivors of sexual violence at public sector facilities, more comprehensive services for survivors–including legal and judicial support–were limited.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Discrimination against women was widespread. It was most acute in rural areas, where an estimated 80 percent of the population lived. The law contains discriminatory regulations, such as recognition of the husband as the legal head of the family and the sole guardian of children older than five. Courts generally did not consider domestic violence by itself a justification for granting a divorce. Regardless of the number of years married, the number of children raised, and joint property, the law entitles women to only three months’ financial support if the relationship ends. There is limited legal recognition of common-law marriage. A common-law husband has no obligation to provide financial assistance to his family, and consequently women and children sometimes faced abandonment. Traditional courts applied customary law in economic and social relationships.
All federal and regional land laws empower women to access government land. Inheritance laws enable widows to inherit joint property acquired during marriage; however, enforcement of both legal provisions was uneven.
Women’s access to gainful employment, credit, and the opportunity to own or manage a business was limited by fewer educational opportunities and by legal restrictions on women’s employment. These restrictions include limitations on working in occupations deemed dangerous and in specific industries such as mining and agriculture. There were a number of initiatives aimed at increasing women’s access to these critical economic empowerment tools.
Birth Registration: A child’s citizenship derives from its parents. The law requires registration for children at birth. Children born in hospitals were registered; most of those born outside of hospitals were not. The overwhelming majority of children, particularly in rural areas, were born at home. The government continued a campaign initiated in 2017 to increase birth registrations by advising that failure to register would result in denial of public services.
Education: The law does not make education compulsory. Primary education is universal and tuition-free; however, there were not enough schools to accommodate the country’s youth, particularly in rural areas. The cost of school supplies was prohibitive for many families. During the year the city government of Addis Ababa provided school uniforms and supplies to students in all government schools. According to the most recent data available, 90 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls were enrolled in primary school.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Uvula cutting, tonsil scraping, and milk-tooth extraction were among the most prevalent harmful traditional practices. The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013, published by the African Child Policy Forum, found the government had increased punishment for conviction of sexual violence against children. “Child-friendly” courtrooms heard cases involving violence against children and women.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for girls and boys at 18. Authorities, however, did not enforce this law uniformly, and rural families sometimes were unaware of this provision. Based on 2016 data, UNICEF reported that 40 percent of women between ages 20 and 24 were married before age 18, and 14 percent were married before age 15.
The government took several public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including closing all schools. The closure of schools removed a child marriage safety net from rural students because teachers served as a protection mechanism in early identification of child marriage practices. The closing of schools, coupled with stay-at-home advice, resulted in a surge of child marriages. Between April and May, 249 girls ages eight to 15 were married in Amhara Region. The government strategy to address underage marriage focused on education and mediation rather than punishment of offenders.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 18, but authorities did not enforce this law. The law provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for conviction of sexual intercourse with a minor. The law provides for one year in prison and a substantial monetary fine for conviction of trafficking in indecent material displaying sexual intercourse by minors. In February parliament approved Proclamation 1178/2020–A Proclamation to Provide for the Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Persons, which criminalizes all forms of child sex trafficking. Some families and brothel owners exploited girls from the country’s impoverished rural areas for domestic servitude and commercial sex. There were reports that brothel owners exploited some young girls for commercial sex in Addis Ababa’s central market.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Ritual and superstition-based infanticide, including of infants with disabilities, continued in remote tribal areas, particularly in South Omo. Local governments worked to educate communities against the practice.
Displaced Children: According to a 2010 report of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, approximately 150,000 children lived on the streets; 60,000 of them were in the capital. The ministry’s report stated this was caused by the inability of families to support children due to parental illness or insufficient household income. Research in 2014 by the ministry noted the problem was exacerbated by rapid urbanization, illegal employment brokers, high expectations of better life in cities, and rural-to-urban migration. These children often begged, sometimes as part of a gang, or worked in the informal sector.
The government was concerned by the increasing number of street children in Addis Ababa. The government worked in collaboration with various organizations in rehabilitating needy children. A center for the rehabilitation of street children was donated to the Addis Ababa Labor and Social Affairs Bureau. The center accommodates up to 2,000 children; the beneficiaries receive short-term training, physiological therapy, and vocational training. The government also assisted street children who wanted to pursue an education.
Institutionalized Children: There were an estimated 4.5 million orphans in the country in 2012, which was 4.9 percent of the population, according to statistics published by UNICEF. The vast majority lived with extended family members. Governmental and privately operated orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions were often unsanitary. Institutionalized children did not receive adequate health care.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. On January 9, the parliament passed legislation banning intercountry adoptions, under a broader amendment of the family law. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts, and the Addis Ababa Jewish community reported it believed it was protected by the government to practice its faith; however, it did face limited societal discrimination.
The constitution does not mandate equal rights for persons with disabilities. Employment law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities but does not explicitly mention intellectual or sensory disabilities. It was illegal for deaf persons to drive, but the National Association of the Deaf has advocated for the issuance of driver’s licenses for the past 45 years.
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. It also requires employers to provide appropriate working or training conditions and materials to persons with disabilities. The law specifically recognizes the additional burden on women with disabilities.
The government took some measures to enforce these laws, for example by assigning interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing civil service employees. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Public Servants Administration Commission were responsible for the implementation of employment laws for individuals with disabilities.
The law mandates disability accessibility for buildings, although there are no specific regulations that define these standards. Buildings and toilet facilities were usually not accessible for persons with disabilities. Property owners are required to give persons with disabilities preference for ground-floor apartments, and they generally did so.
According to a report from the UN Population Fund and the Population Council, one in every three girls with disabilities suffered at least one sexual assault. Girls with disabilities also faced systematic and violent abuse at home and in their communities. The report stated many girls with disabilities were blamed for being different and were accused of being under the spell of witchcraft.
Women with disabilities faced more disadvantages in education and employment. According to the 2010 Young Adult Survey by the Population Council, 23 percent of girls with disabilities were in school, compared with 48 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys without disabilities.
Nationally there were several schools for persons with hearing and vision disabilities, and several training centers for children and young persons with intellectual disabilities. There was a network of prosthetic and orthopedic centers in five of the 10 regions.
The law does not restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote and otherwise participate in civic affairs, although accessibility problems may make participation difficult for persons with more significant disabilities. Most polling stations were accessible to persons with disabilities, and these individuals as well as the elderly, pregnant women, and nursing mothers received priority when voting.
According to the 2007 census, the country had more than 80 ethnic groups, of which the Oromo, at approximately 34 percent of the population, is the largest. An updated census is controversial and was slated for 2019 but was postponed until further notice. The federal system and constitution define political boundaries based on ethnic considerations, but the documents themselves are not drawn along such boundaries. Most political parties were primarily ethnically based, although the ruling party and one of the largest opposition parties were not organized along ethnic lines.
There were several cases of societal violence affecting members of national, racial, or ethnic minorities or groups. In July unidentified gunmen attacked a village in Guba District, Metekel Zone of Benishangul Gumuz Region, killing 14 ethnic Amharans, according to a statement issued by the Amhara Region. An official within Amhara Region reported that six individuals suffered injuries in this “premeditated attack aimed at triggering ethnic conflict.” This conflict was followed on August 6, 7, and 13 by attacks on three different areas in Metekel Zone. The violence included livestock raids, ambushes of travelers on roads, attacks, and robberies of churches, resulting in an estimated 160 deaths. National defense forces were called to restore calm.
On June 30, Oromo youths in Harar and parts of Oromia Region went door-to-door and attacked non-Oromos and destroyed their property following the killing of the prominent Oromo singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa. Most of the violence occurred from June 30 to July 6. The death of Hundessa was followed by violent protests throughout Oromia Region resulting in more than 170 deaths and millions of dollars of property destruction. Federal and regional authorities pursued investigations against 5,728 detainees whom authorities accused of participating in this violence. Police also arrested local officials and security personnel for complicity. (See section 1.a., Respect for the Integrity of the Person–Arbitrary Deprivation of Life.)
As tensions mounted between the national government and the Tigrayan regional government, there were multiple reports of Tigrayan security officials, public officials, and other ethnic Tigrayans who were arrested, detained, or asked to step down or take a leave of absence from their official positions. On November 24 and December 25, the EHRC and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council released assessments describing targeted ethnic killings that began November 9 in Mai-Kadra and surrounding towns. Prior to the November 9 attack, Tigrayan militias and regional security services reportedly asked for the identification documents of Amharans before targeting them. The attack resulted in approximately 600-1,200 deaths, including bodies discovered in mass graves near Abune Aregwai Church, and the destruction of private property.
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is illegal and conviction is punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment. No law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were reports of violence against LGBTI individuals; however, reporting was limited due to fear of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation of abuses against LGBTI individuals. Individuals generally did not identify themselves as LGBTI persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual conduct. Activists in the LGBTI community reported surveillance and feared for their safety. There were no reports of persons incarcerated or prosecuted for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct.
The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, most of whom were men, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.
Societal stigma and discrimination against persons with or affected by HIV or AIDS continued in education, employment, and community integration. Persons with or affected by HIV or AIDS reported difficulty accessing various services. There were no statistics on the scale of the problem.
In April public universities were closed because of COVID-19, however, they were the site of violence fueled by ethnic tensions that severely interrupted learning. A report by the Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy, a local human rights group, found that 12 students lost their lives and more than 58 were wounded in violence at 28 of the country’s 45 public universities during the previous academic year (September 2019 through March). The report found that the violence frequently took on an ethnic dimension, although the triggering incidents varied and sometimes began with personal fights. In response to the violence, authorities detained 15 students and two administrative staff suspected of the killings. The government also temporarily or permanently suspended three university vice presidents, four professors, and a health officer for involvement in the violence. The report identified the highest incidence of violence at Wollo University in Amhara Region, which experienced three rounds of unrest.