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[Dehai-WN] Eurasiareview.com: Stolen Childhoods: Child Prostitution And Trafficking In Ethiopia

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2012 15:23:10 +0200

Stolen Childhoods: Child Prostitution And Trafficking In Ethiopia

Written by: <http://www.eurasiareview.com/author/graham-peebles/> Graham

Note: (This article is part of a series; Click the following links for the
no-defence-no-support-no-voice/> first and
cultural-calamity/> second and
chools-are-safe-for-children/> third installments).

April 10, 2012

Prostitution, perhaps the most distressing form of child abuse, is an
epidemic throughout Ethiopia. The innocence of a childhood shattered,
causing a deep feeling of shame, poisoning the sense of self and excluding
the child from education, friends and the broader society. A society, which
stands idly by whilst children suffer, speaking not in the face of extreme
exploitation, denying the truth of extensive child exploitation and acts
not, is a society in collusion. (This article is part of a series; Click the
following links for the
no-defence-no-support-no-voice/> first and
cultural-calamity/> second and
chools-are-safe-for-children/> third installments).

In the capital, prostitution abounds, "It is difficult to give an exact
figure for the prevalence of child prostitution in Addis Ababa but
observation reveals that the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate in
the city"1 The joint Save the Children Denmark and Addis Ababa City
administration (SCD) study states "Interviewing children revealed that over
50% started engaging in prostitution below 16 years of age. The majority
work more than six hours per day"

There are many grades or levels of prostitution, "Some children engage in
commercial sex in nightclubs, bars and brothels, while others simply stand
on street corners waiting for men to pick them up" (CPAA) The SCD study
"identified types of child prostitution: working on the streets; working in
small bars; working in local arki or alcohol houses; working in rented
houses/beds and; working in rent places for chat/drugs use. Each location
exposes the children to different risks and hazards."

"The major problems that have been faced by children engaged in prostitution
include: rape, beating, hunger, etc. Based on the responses of children
engaged in prostitution, about 45% of them have been raped before they
engaged in the activity". (CPAA) The dangers associated with child
prostitution affect the girls physical and mental/emotional health. Violent
physical abuse, being hit and raped is common, Birtuken a 17 year old child
sex worker (CSW), "prostitution is disastrous to the physical and social
wellbeing of a person." (CPAA) The impact on the long-term mental health of
a child working in prostitution, can often cause chronic psychological
problems, "the emotional health consequences of prostitution include severe
trauma, stress, depression, anxiety, self-medication through alcohol and
drug abuse; and eating disorders.2

The risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) and HIV/Aids
is great, so too the chances of unwanted pregnancies, as men, immersed in
selfishness and ignorance, refuse to wear condoms. Their arrogance and macho
bravado is a major cause in the spread of HIV/Aids in Ethiopia USAID3
suggests, "1.3million people are now living with the virus in the country".
It is estimated that "70 per cent of female infertility is caused by
sexually transmitted diseases that can be traced back to their husbands or
partners."4 "Women in prostitution have been blamed for this epidemic of
STDs when, in reality, studies confirm that it is men who buy sex in the
process of migration who carry the disease from one prostituted woman to
another and ultimately back to their wives and girlfriends." (EoP)

There are various causes for the growth in child prostitution in urban and
rural areas as well as Addis Ababa, arranged marriages, illegal under
Federal Law is cited as a key factor, "Research carried out in 2005
established that most victims of commercial sexual exploitation found in the
streets of Addis Ababa had been married when they were below 15 years of
age" (SAACSEC) In highlighting the factors that drive children away from
their homes and into commercial sex work, the CPAA study found that "Most of
the child prostitutes came from regions to look for a job, due to conflicts
at home, early marriage and divorce. Poverty, death of one or both parents,
child trafficking, high repetition rates and drop out from school and lack
of awareness about the consequence of being engaged in prostitution are key
factors that push young girls to be involved in commercial sex work". (CPAA)
In addition to arranged marriage, which is a significant cause, the study
found that "the major reasons identified by the children themselves for
engaging in commercial sex work are: poverty (34%), dispute in family (35%),
and death of mother and/or father. 40% joined prostitution either to support
themselves or their parents. Quite a large number of girls (35%) have joined
prostitution due to violence within the home. Thus violence within the
family is the main cause for children fleeing from home."

The causes listed are complex and interrelated. At the epicenter of these
diverse reasons though sits the family. Conflict at home is for many girls
(and boys) the force driving them away from family and onto the streets of
Addis Ababa, or one of the provincial towns and cities. Division and
conflict grow from many seeds, repeated physical abuse at the hands of a
parent or stepparent, rape at the hands of a Father, stepfather or extended
family member, physical and verbal abuse, all are factors that force girls
to leave the home and seek release from what has become a prison like
existence of servitude, intimidation and fear. "When physical and
psychological punishment becomes intolerable, it may lead to the child
running away from home. Girls tend to become prostitutes when they run away
from home." (VACE2)

Another burgeoning group from which many children fall into the net of
prostitution is that resulting from HIV-orphans who have lost their parents
to the virus. "Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the
world: 13 per cent of Ethiopian children have lost one or both parents.the
number of children orphaned solely by HIV/AIDS has reached over 1.2 million.
These children find themselves at a very high risk of entering commercial
sex to survive, yet there is very limited support available for them either
from government [emphasis mine}."(AACSE)

Coherent or dysfunctional, the social fabric is a tapestry of interrelated,
interconnected strands. Neglect by the Ethiopian Government in areas
diverse, and fundamental is the glue that is binding together a polluted
stream of suffering and pain.

Bussed in Married off

In 2006/7, I worked with the Forum for Street Children Ethiopia (FSCE),
running education projects for the children in their care. Girls living and
working on the streets, mainly the hectic cobbled broken pathways around the
Mercato Bus station. "This extremely poor neighborhood in the city has
become 'the epicentre of the capital's illegal [emphasis mine] industry of
child prostitution'5

The children at FSCE ranged in age, although many did not even know their
date of birth; most the children do not have documentation "the problem is
further aggravated by a widespread lack of birth registration" (CPAA). Some
were as young as 11 years old, "over 50% started engaging in prostitution
below 16 years of age" the study states. "In almost every case the girls
come to the city from the countryside, their families cast many out, others
sent to Addis to work". Arriving at the city's main bus-station, shrouded in
naivety and fear, with little or no education, the girls make easy pickings
for the men that greet them, with a warm smile, and a cunning mind only to
mistreat, use and exploit them. With nowhere else to go, and no
alternatives, the girls find themselves working the street and the journey
into the painful, destructive prison of prostitution has begun.

Many, according to Save the Children Denmark (STCD), come from the Amhara
region, the second most populated region, with a population of over 20
million. These children arrive in the capital knowing nobody, with
(probably) no money and no contacts."Enforced child marriages, abuse, and
the prospects of ending their days in the grip of poverty are factors
pushing Ethiopian girls as young as nine years of age'" (VACE), to risk
their childhood and their lives in the city. According to (CPAA) "There are
many factors pushing the girls away from the region, (Amhara) including
poverty, peer pressure and abuse. But child marriage is one of the most
common explanations we hear when interviewing the girls," Arranged marriages
are widespread in the (Amhara) region in the north of Ethiopia, where young
girls, children are forced to marry adult men, all too often this 'union'
results in rape, abuse and violence, from which the innocent child is forced
to flee, only into the clutches of exploitation, violence and abuse. And do
they recover, is there healing and release, is a childhood stolen, a
childhood lost, let us pray it is not so.

Marriages entered into unwillingly by extremely young girls, some as young
as seven years old usually in exchange for reparations of some kind, money,
cattle, land, lead all too often to abuse and violence, "traditional
practices like female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage, are
causes for the increased violence against children." 14-year-old boy 6 "in
Wolmera Woreda, the practice of FGM is nearly universal since girls must be
circumcised before marriage." (VACE2) Once committed to a marriage, by
parents who often regard the child as no more than an object to be traded,
the girl is frequently raped and mistreated and treated as a servant.
"Abduction, rape and early marriage may ultimately lead many girls to
prostitution. Early marriage and abduction seldom produce successful
marriages. In fact, such relationships are short-lived. As a result, most of
these young girls run far away from their husbands in an attempt to start a
new and happier life elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of them end up as
prostitutes.' (VACE2)

"Early marriage is illegal (except under particular circumstances), weak law
enforcement [Emphasis mine] allows this practice to be widely followed
throughout Ethiopia; the phenomenon is reported in almost every region of
the country. Nationwide, 19 per cent of girls were married by the age of 15
and about half were married by the age of 19; in Amhara region, 50 per cent
of girls were married by the age of 15. "When the marriage finally
collapses, the girls usually migrate to urban areas since breaking a
marriage arranged by their relatives is considered a shameful act and they
are no longer welcome within their families and communities. Once in larger
towns they end up living in the streets given their lack of skills to find
employment. Such dire circumstances lead many girls to be exploited in
commercial sex." (CPAA)

To break free of a forced marriage entered into against the child's will,
and be punished by banishment from the family home, is a form of social
injustice based on traditions, which have long failed to serve the children,
the family or the community at large. It is time long since past that these
practice's where changed. Education, cultivating tolerance and understanding
of the Human Rights of the Child are keys to undoing such outdated
destructive sociological patterns, together with the enforcement of the law
to deter parents and prospective 'husbands'.

No options, no hope

No child enters into prostitution when they have a choice, "prostitution is
seen as a social ill that is unaccepted, prohibited and fought in most parts
of our continent. Prostitution is not only a question of morality but a
human problem, a problem of human exploitation, a problem of societal
failure in providing equal opportunities." (CPAA) "At the end (of the
interview) Belaynesh said that no girl/woman would like to be a prostitute
but the problems force them to be in such a situation." The circumstances
that lead a young girl away from the games and innocence of childhood and
what should be, the love and gentle kindness of her family, into the shadows
of prostitution, may vary and circumstances differ, suffering though is
common to all those forced into such a lifestyle, the impact long lasting
and severe, the consequences dire, destroying many lives.

The children at FSCE in Mercato told us their stories, often with shame,
through tears and embarrassment, always with pain. A thread connected them
all, yes poverty, was a major issue, so too poor education however, the
stream that united the group of wonderful 11 to 18 year olds, was a
breakdown in human relationships, of one kind or another. Once outside the
family, and society, young girls desperate to survive have little choice but
to work as CSW. For those recruiting and selling girls It is a business, for
the children on the streets it a torture. "Almost all respondents do not
like prostitution (99%). Almost all the girls are involved in prostitution
not because they like what they are doing but due to other factors, to
support themselves or their families." (CPAA) "Child prostitution [is] a big
business involving a whole series of actors from abductors at bus stations,
to blue taxis and bar/hotel owners who tend to see children as the spices of
their trade. The business actors, oblivious to pervasive taboos, have long
abandoned recruiting adult prostitutes." (CPAA)

Trafficking lives

Child prostitution and trafficking of children are inextricably linked. They
are of course both illegal. All international conventions, from The
Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to International Labor
Organisation (IL0), as one would expect, outlaw them. So too do Ethiopia's
Federal laws, "The 1993 Labor Proclamation forbids employment of young
persons under the age of 14 years. Employment in hazardous work is also
forbidden for those under 18. The Penal Code provides means for prosecuting
persons sexually or physically abusing children and persons engaging in
child trafficking including juveniles into prostitution. Federal
Proclamation no.42/93 protects children less than 14 years not to engage in
any kind of formal employment." (CPAA) And yet both child prostitution and
the trafficking of minors goes on, and on and on. "The United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that girls are trafficked both within the
country and abroad to countries in the Middle East and to South Africa."7

Children are brought from rural areas of Ethiopia to the capital city by
brokers, "ttraffickers, who feed on parent's low awareness with false
promises of work and education for their offspring." The numbers are
staggering, the money tiny, the damage unimaginable "up to 20,000 children,
some 10 years old, are sold each year [for around $1.20 to $2.40] by their
parents and trafficked by unscrupulous brokers to work in cities across
Ethiopia."8 And who would do such a thing. Who would 'sell' an innocent
child; condemn a child to slavery and brutal exploitation, pain and acute
distress? "These traffickers are 'typically local brokers, relatives, family
members or friends of the victims. Many returnees are also involved in
trafficking by working in collaboration with tour operators and travel
agencies"9 "The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual
Exploitation in Travel and Tourism has not been signed by any travel and
tourism company in Ethiopia." (CPAA) The Ethiopian Government acting in the
interest of the children upon their homeland, and their responsibilities
under international law, should rightly and immediately make all tour
operators sign the afore mentioned treaty, or face closure, and criminal

"The International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated that Ethiopian
children are being sold for as little as US$ 1.20 to work as domestic
servants or to be exploited in prostitution." The Middle East is the major
international destination of choice for traffickers, "Many Ethiopian women
working in domestic service in the Middle East face severe abuses indicative
of forced labor, including physical and sexual assault, denial of salary,
sleep deprivation, and confinement. Many are driven to despair and mental
illness, with some committing suicide. Ethiopian women are also exploited in
the sex trade after migrating for labour purposes - particularly in
brothels, mining camps, and near oil fields in Sudan - or after escaping
abusive employers in the Middle East."10 "At least 10,000 have been sent to
the Gulf States to work as prostitutes."(CTE) Let us not even begin to look
at the complicity of such states in the destruction of the lives of these
children and women, the 'little ones' that dance upon the waters of life,
seeking only a gentle heart to trust, finding the dark days of Rome, and in
despair we cry "Men's wretchedness in soothe I so deplore,"11

Prime Minister Meles loves to 'talk the talk' to his western allies, the US,
Britain, the European Union and the like, whilst turning a blind eye, a deaf
ear to the cries of the child being beaten, the young girl being raped and
traded for sex and the teenager separated from her family, her friends and
her childhood, sold into servitude and abuse within Ethiopia and across the
Red Sea in the oil rich 'Gulf States'.

(This article is part of a series; Click the following links for the
no-defence-no-support-no-voice/> first and
cultural-calamity/> second and
chools-are-safe-for-children/> third installments).

1. Addis Ababa City Admin Social & NGO Affairs Office (SNGOA), Save the
Children Denmark (SCD) and ANNPPCAN-Ethiopian. Child Labor in Ethiopia with
special focus on Child Prostitution Study. 'Child Prostitution in Addis
Ababa 2006 (CPAA)
2. Health Effects of Prostitution (EOP), Janice G. Raymond
4. Jodi L. Jacobson, The Other Epidemic
5. Sofie Loumann Nielsen. The Reporter 10 September 2010
6. Violence against children in Ethiopia (VACE). Africa Child Policy Forum
7. http://www.childtrafficking.org/cgi-bin/ct/main.sql?ID=2067
ent.sql> &file=view_document.sql
8. ILO.
9. Ecpat Global Monitoring report status of action against commercial sexual
exploitation of children, Ethiopia. (AACSE)
11. Faust Part One, Mephistopheles.

it%20Graham%20Peebles> Ethiopian children at FSCE. Photo credit Graham

Ethiopian children at FSCE. Photo credit Graham Peebles


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