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Film Shows Effort to Stop Tribes from Killing Children

Filmmaker John Rowe discovered a secret after many visits to the Omo River Valley in Ethiopia: people there thought some children were “cursed.”

Villagers blamed the children for sickness, a lack of rainfall and other problems. So they killed them.

The Omo Valley is a place of beauty. It is home to villagers with customs that date back many generations.

Rowe says the villagers believe that if a child’s teeth first appear on the upper gum instead of the lower part of the mouth, the child is cursed and must be killed. He says children are also killed when they are born to a woman who is not married, or if they are disabled or are twins.

Rowe heard about this belief from Lale Labuko, the man who helped him during his visits to the Omo Valley. Rowe made a documentary film about the practice. He called the film “Omo Child.”

Labuko says that when he was 15 years old, he saw a two-year-old child being drowned in a river. His mother told him that he had two sisters who were killed before he was born.

In the film, a woman says 15 of her children were considered cursed. She says when they were born, older members of her village took them and fed them to crocodiles.

In the film, Labuko says “I want to stop these things.”

Labuko was the first member of his village to be educated. He asked Rowe to help him end the killings. First, he persuaded some young villagers, then families and leaders of the village.

Rowe’s son Tyler filmed the documentary over a five year period. He says it was not easy. He says some people admitted they had killed their children. But others said children were not killed.

Tyler says some villagers told him, “It doesn’t happen here. We stopped it a long time ago. It only happens (in another village, not here.)”

Labuko’s work caused people to begin speaking out about the practice. His tribe agreed to ban the killings in 2012. Rowe’s documentary shows Labuko’s efforts.

A charity group created by Labuko and his wife has saved more than 40 children. They now live in a home in Jinka, Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian government has banned the practice, but Rowe says “there are two other tribes that continue to” kill children. But because of the film, more people know about the killings and the efforts of one man to stop them.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Mike O’Sullivan reported this story from Los Angeles. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

twin – n. either one of two babies that are born at the same time to the same mother

charity group – n. an organization that helps people who are poor, sick, etc.

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