Jacob Nkenze, a 13-year-old boy from an Ethiopian village near Addis Ababa, was rejected for humanitarian aid this week because he’s technically no longer a child.
Jacob, who for years has received a monthly aid package from the Red Cross filled with food for him and his family, did not get his shipment this month because he officially became a teenager in January. A Red Cross worker in Addis Ababa says that Jacob’s case has drawn attention to procedural shortcomings in the qualifications and screenings process for the right to receive child humanitarian assistance.
“When Jacob came to pick up his aid package, my colleagues got suspicious about his looks and asked him how old he was. When Jacob confirmed that he had just turned 13, our chief aid dispensing officer pointed to a poster we keep here in the office that says, ‘Feed the hungry children’. Then he told Jacob that being a teen means you’re not a kid anymore, and unfortunately for Jacob, our officer was absolutely right. We had no other choice but to send the young man home empty-handed,” the Red Cross worker said.
Jacob stated that he was disappointed when he was forced to return home without anything to feed to his starving family, and said that he had been pretty confident that his “boney” appearance and stunted growth would help him appear younger to the Red Cross staff than he really is. “The only thing I am left with is to talk my parents into making a new baby so we could maybe get some food on its behalf, but I’m also afraid that we’ll be forced to wait because newborn babies aren’t considered children either,” said a visibly disappointed Jacob.
Following Jacob’s case, the Red Cross apologized to all the teens and adults who lost their right to collect aid from them and promised that they would start modifying campaign posters and billboards all over the world to more clearly articulate their aim to “feed the hungry children (between 4 and 12 years old)”.