Should Women Forge Armed Struggle Against Abduction!?

By Selamawit Seyoum

". Men will only change if law on abduction is strictly enforced.  If the law continues to be lax, men would be out of control forever," W/ro Mestawat Bekele, a young woman who was forced into marriage by abduction some years ago said with dismay.

Mestawat whose dream of becoming a world class athlete was shattered due to the age old tradition - abduction - now toils to make money for her four children selling areke (a kind of home brewed liquor.)

"I dreamt of being a champion.  I used to stand first and win medals.  I trained hard to improve my long distance running.  I loved sports but when I was abducted, I had to give up," she said in a nearly one hour BBC documentary firm entitled: "School girl killer" staged at the British council in Addis on 12, October 1999.

A one time classmate of Olympic Gold medalist Derartu Tulu, W/ro Mestawat lives in a society where abduction is considered as one way of marriage.  In Arsi, Oromia State, where Mestawat is from, and other rural parts of the country, particularly in the South, men abduct girls and rape them to make them pregnant so as to claim them as their wives.

Many girls, helplessly fall prey to this harmful tradition.  However, Mestawat's younger sister Aberash Bekele challenged the tradition killing her abductor.  Aberash stunned the nation when the story about her extra ordinary deed broke out through the media.

In October 1996, Aberash, 14 at that time, was returning home from school with her friends when bunches of club wielding horsemen kidnapped her.  Later that day, one of the kidnappers "beat her senseless" before he raped her.  The next morning, she fled carrying the abductors gun.  When he tried to stop her she fired a warning shot in the air.  However, he witlessly though that she, as a woman, wouldn't have the gut to kill him and kept on walking towards her.  She lowered the gun and shot him to death.

I don't think of myself as having killed anyone when I think of my suffering.  That is the way I see it.  All, I did was kill my enemy.  I don't feel sorry for him as I would for any one else," said Aberash, in the firm.

Mestawat who said was leading a miserable life being a victim herself, was also happy that her sister pulled the trigger at her abductor.  "When I heard that Aberash has killed her abductor I was overwhelmed with joy."

Although, there is a law against abduction in the criminal code issued in 1956, many criticised it as archaic, and ineffective.  The punishment ordained against perpetrators is not compatible with the crime committed.

According to the law, a verdict passed on an abductor is three years of imprisonment.

Nevertheless, the executive body usually fails to enforce, at least, the existing law.  The police, for instance, are reputed to say that abduction is rather a tradition and there is not much that they can do about it.

W/ro Meaza Ashenafi, executive director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association who closely followed the case of Aberash said, "The police always say that they should be sensitive, they should be handling the case step by step because it is not only enacting the law but a matter of culture and a way of living."

Aberash who is saddened by the fact that the practice continues unabated said, "No action has been taken against such criminals.  Nothing has been done to stop them.  So they are encouraged to carry on abducting."

Her younger sister Mulatua said, "They keep saying they are going to abduct me too.  When I am with my friends at break time they tease me and threaten me.  They say: "Where will you find a gun to kill us as your sister did."

Legal experts, women's rights activists and other invited guests who attended the film-show agreed that sensitisation on the harmful effects of abduction is important.  No less is capitalisation on the formulation of strict law as well as its enforcement.

In those areas where the practice is highly prevalent girls and their parents live in constant fear.  The girls dread possible anguish of living with their abductors whom they do not know at all and resent the sacrifice of their rosy childhood dreams.

"When I look at the men around here most of them do not care about improving their lives.  All that interests them is abducting some ones daughter to become their so called wife.  What these men do, makes me so angry," said Mestawat.

Asked, if Mestawat has a happy life with him, her husband said: "There is no use crying over spilt milk."

Parents usually come to terms with abductors of their daughters in order to avoid enmity.  They know that they would not get sufficient assistance from law enforcing organs to have their daughters back.

"We left Mestawat to her abductor because we just did not want bloodshed.  We had no choice but to leave her to such a miserable life," said her parents.

The Federal constitution of Ethiopia stipulates:  "The state shall enforce the right of women to eliminate the influences of harmful customs.  Laws, customs and practices that oppress or cause bodily or mental harm to women are prohibited.  "Yet, many women who fear not to be met with Mestawat's fate are only awaiting for the laws that guarantee their constitutional right to come to their rescue be effective.

W/ro Meaza Ashenafi said the case of Aberash, who had been charged with murder and acquitted in 1998 after a two-year prosecution, "was very symbolic in that is was almost a revolution against cultre."

But it does not seem that Aberash's case stir the legislative the law enforcement bodies to react regarding violence against women whether it is under the guise of tradition or not.