On 15 June 2020, the UNODC Programme Office in Ethiopia together with the Education for Justice (E4J) initiative jointly organized a webinar with 21 university lecturers drawn from 11 universities, namely Adigrat University, Mekelle University, Bahirdar University, Debremarkos University, Gonder University, Wolo University, Wolayita Sodo University, Dilla University, Hawassa University, Jimma University and Haramaya University. These universities are located across four regions of Ethiopia. The aim of the webinar was to initiate a dialogue on situating the E4J initiative in Universities in Ethiopia during and post COVID-19.
Ethiopia confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on 13 March 2020 and a State of Emergency was subsequently declared in April 2020 which is set to last till September 2020. The State of Emergency has resulted in the closure of educational institutions including universities and has created a situation of uncertainty and disruption in the teaching-learning process. Nonetheless, in her address to participants of the webinar, the UNODC Programme Office Ethiopia Representative a.i., Ms. Margaret Akullo stated that “… this situation may have also created an opportunity to be creative and consider alternative approaches to imparting knowledge.”
In discussing the challenges faced by the lecturers during COVID-19 and alternative approaches that could be applied to teaching the E4J modules during the State of Emergency, the lecturers committed to incorporating and delivering E4J modules through online platforms where possible.
The E4J team briefed participants on the findings of a preliminary report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human trafficking and on other crimes. The findings indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in support services for victims being suspended or drastically reduced, including lack of access to healthcare for undocumented migrants and victims of trafficking. The report highlighted other critical issues such as the reduction in the number of active officers in the court system due to the closure of courts and which has led to a backlog in cases and delayed justice proceedings. Other issues include the increased access to the internet by children that could pose a risk to viewing of online images or online abuse of children. Additionally, the report found that the rates of domestic violence and abuse had increased and were mostly committed by family members or partners.
This webinar was a follow-up to a training-of- trainers’ workshop delivered by E4J colleagues in February 2020 in Addis Ababa in cooperation with the Law School of Addis Ababa University where university lecturers from 13 universities in Ethiopia received training on 10 university modules on human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and crime prevention and criminal justice. Ms. Zoi Sakelliadou from the UNODC E4J Initiative said that “… the pandemic creates an opportunity to reconsider the inherent inequalities that are causing vulnerability to exploitation and UNODC can use this opportunity to create a new vision for addressing these inequalities.”
Ms. Bianca Kopp from the UNODC E4J Initiative informed participants that there are plans to introduce a global podcast service in June 2020 that would capture interviews and presentations of research finding on various topics by leading academics. The podcasts would feature two episodes every month, are downloadable and could be used to supplement the teaching by lecturers during the COVID-19 crisis. Participants were also informed about the Grants Programme for Higher Education Institutions launched in late 2019 to support the academics in strengthening the teaching on SDG 16 related topics at their respective institutions.
Following the webinar, many lecturers indicated that they do not have internet connection at home and proposed that UNODC support them to find practical solutions to overcome their ICT infrastructure related problems. UNODC was invited to deliver more e-workshops and webinars. As a next step, UNODC will deliver an online briefing for national policy makers to garner their support for continuing education particularly with regard to any subsequent roll-out of the E4J initiative in public universities (online/offline) in Ethiopia during and post COVID-19.