Ethiopia: A child, overwhelmed with adult duties
12 November 2009

A child at the daycare centre of the JRS Refugee Community Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It hosts around 50 refugee children. (Angela Hellmuth/JRS)
Since her mother died a couple of years ago, she has been forced to assume adult responsibilities, looking after her father who is an alcoholic.
Addis Ababa, 12 November 2009 – Jemila* is a ten-year-old Congolese refugee living in Addis Ababa. She speaks the official local language, Amharic, fluently. Since her mother died a couple of years ago, she has been forced to assume adult responsibilities, looking after her father who is an alcoholic. 

Often times, he would not come home, letting Jemila spend the night on her own, unprotected, in a single dark room he has rented from local residents and where they live together. He also suffers from epilepsy which he sometimes uses as an excuse for staying away over night.

Every month, he collects his monthly allowance, which is meant to cater for him and the child, from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). But what he eventually brings home is just the little that remains after spending most of the money on alcohol. 

With so much responsibility on her immature shoulders, one wonders about the role a girl child, regardless of her age, is expected to play in African society. Will the fact that Jemila has to carry the burden alone make her run away one day? Or does she endure because the value of the family ranks high on this continent and as a child she is simply hoping to find love and compassion?

Jemila likes to spend her day at the JRS Refugee Community Centre (RCC). It’s a place where she can feel at home and be a child again, playing and mixing with other children. One time though, Jemila was forced to spend the night at the RCC because her father did not turn up to pick her from the centre. She was given a place to rest and something to eat and JRS workers told her not to worry. 

After her case was repeatedly reported to UNHCR the agency is now looking at it, trying to improve Jemila’s situation. At the same time, a counsellor is trying his best to help her father change his behaviour. 


*not her real name