Abduction:  nightmare of kembata girls?

"Four of my friends have already been abducted.  None of them wanted to remain a wife of her abductor.  However, no one of them tried to run from the 'husbands'.  This is not because they have been chained or kept behind locked doors.  Neither had there been a person to hold them back whenever they tried to flee the abductor's place.  But there is a much stronger chain -  their community's attitude towards abducted girls.  A girl who manages to escape her abductor, even before she is raped, is unwelcome back at her home and has nowhere to go.

"I know that mine and my friend's fate will to be different.  One day or another, we, at least some of us, will get into the same trap of abductors.  No doubt, we would prefer to escape the abductors at all cost.  Some of us may manage to escape.  But what is the difference as we are awaited by more psychological and emotional disturbances as outcasts unacceptable to our fathers, mothers and every community members."

The facial expression, gestures and movement of the bodies of Mehrsaye Bekele, 20 and of her three friends who now and then interrupted her to conform her ideas, spoke more than the above statement by the girl.

Those girls were going back home after attending a final session of a workshop on gender and development organized by Kembati Menti Gezzma - Tope, kembata women's self help organization, operating in their vicinity -durame town of the Kembata Alaba Tembaro Zoneof the Southern Nations Nationalities, Peoples State.

When the of caught sight of the car, in which were this writer and some other attendants of the workshop, the girls flung their hands gesturing for a brief stop of the vehicle.

One can easily recognize the relief the girls draw from having breathed their worries off to the group of women all hardly able to do about it but desperately looking forward to a meaningful intervention by public and government bodies to relieve those and thousands of other local girls from the fear  and uncertainty surrounding their life.

The zonal Women's Affairs and the Police Offices have said something on the harmful tradition.

Abduction has been a serious problem in the area.  Most of the marriages in the area are formed through abduction.  Subjects of abduction are supposed to unwillingly settle in to such marriages as escaping from abductors means suffering due to rejection by the community including one's immediate family, according W/ro Elfnesh H/Mariam, an expert from the Zonal Women's Affairs Office.

"Thanks to various sensitization programmes held against abduction and other harmful traditions and beliefs, the practice has been reduced to a certain extent.  Some victims and/or parents have begun to report abduction cases and sue abductors," she said/

Speaking on her office's efforts against  the practice, W/ro Elfnesh said that the office has been orienting, mobilizing and working in close collaboration with the zonal police, law executing bodies, church and mosque leaders as well as public figures to sensitize the public against abduction; rape and other harmful practices.

W/ro Elfnesh recalled a sad story of a girl, resident of Omo Sheleko woreda of the zone, who died failing down from a cliff while she was running away from an abductor two years ago.  "The Women's Affairs Office has been following the case of here abductor who is under detention."  she said.  Another girl had her arm badly broken in her desperate struggle to  escape abduction.

"Further intensified awareness creation and sensitization activities are, therefore, mandatory to reduce all effects of abduction."  She said.

"The best means to fight this and plenty of other harmful traditional practices is, however, the united struggle of women themselves.  The subjects should unite against the scourge.  This is why the Office has been facilitating for women residents to form their own association,"  she said.

According to the expert, women's associations have been formed at zonal and woreda levels.  "although many more women have yet to join in," she said.

W/ro Elifnesh also pointed out that the zonal Women's Affair's Office was faced with financial and shortage of staff problems that it cannot go to great length to curb the above mentioned and many other problems confronting women residents.

In his reply on how police handle the issue, major Teshale Mikore, head of the zonal police Criminal Control and Investigation section said.  "The wrong attitude the community and especially elders hold towards the practice has been the biggest challenge of police in dealing with abduction cases."

The Major said that community elders intervene in abduction cases already under investigation and persuade victims and parents to consent to legalization of marriages between their daughters and the abductors.  They always succeed in doing so and in concealing clues and all other means necessary to continue the investigation.  "At this point, police have no choice but to stop the investigation," he said.

Asked to comment on the allegation that police in the area share the working attitudes and that they handle abduction and rape cases less seriously, the section head said that such allegations were baseless.

He went on to say that police could do nothing without the cooperation of the community.  "The public tends to obey the elders and to come to terms with abductors rather than suing the culprits," he added.

Further efforts should be made in the direction of changing the community's wrong belief that perpetuates abduction and forces abducted girls to remain with the abductor.

According to a study conducted by Kembati Menti Gezima, 87 per cent of marriages in the area are formed through abduction.