Why would a country pay money to a girl that was raped? That is a good question, considering individuals are the perpetrators of the dastardly act, so how did a country come to receive a ruling for a rape victim? Well, the 13 year old girl (at the time) in question was indeed raped as far back as 2001 and Aberew Jemma Negussie was convicted for the crime on charges of both abduction and rape.
Zebene Negash had been seized from her home in 2001 by Aberew Jemma Negussie and a group of accomplices who carted her away and then he raped her. Teachers at the girl’s school reported the crime to the police and Negussie was arrested but released on bail a little while later. He then proceeded to abduct her again and stash her in his brother’s house where she escaped from a month afterwards but only after she had scrawled her name on a piece of paper, which was later used against her in court when it was presented as a marriage contract.
The practice is not a novel one in parts of Ethiopia where the abduction and rape are used to force a girl into marriage when the man cannot afford her bride price. The practice is hinged on the consideration of girl’s who lose their virginity as “tarnished goods”. So why should all this amount to a country paying a rape victim? Well, in July 2003, Negussie was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment without parole for abduction and rape. Four accomplices were also sentenced to eight years each, the first Ethiopian case of this kind in which accomplices were also charged and convicted for abduction.
Because they failed to protect her rights somehow does not fit in with the ending of this story, mainly because it is not the end. After the initial ruling, the case went on to an appeal court and the conviction was overturned when the prosecutor claimed that only a virgin could be raped and Negash could not prove that she was a virgin.
Various Rights groups insisted that it was a violation of both local and international law and 2007 saw Equality Now taking up the case and presenting it before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights after exhausting all local avenues for obtaining justice. It’s fifteen years after the fact and the African Union court based in The Gambia has ruled that Ethiopia violated the girl’s right to equality, dignity, fair trial among a list of other rights and must now pay the sum spoken off above to her. According to the court, the money would serve as; “compensation for the non-material damage she suffered as a result [of] the violations”.
Equality Now described the ruling as an “unprecedented ruling” that should send a message to “all levels of society”. As much as that may be true, the rights group still has their work cut out for them as they must now work to disavow people from the mind that virginity or more aptly it’s lack thereof does not serve as a justification for rape. Hopefully also Ethiopia will pay the money to the now in her late 20’s victim who has been described by Equality Now to be living in “relative safety and pursuing her education”.