As Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Continues To Boom, Too Many Young Women Are Exploited Sexually and Disregarded In The ShadowsPublished Posted on | By TZTA News
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By anyone’s standard, Addis Ababa is on the move. Everywhere signs of a vibrant construction boom are evident, the streets are filled with expensive European and Asian cars, and houses are being built at every corner. Taxis are filled beyond their capacity with customers, while restaurants are as busy as ever. Peek inside any of the thousands of cafes and you will get the feeling that you are in a thriving western city. For most, this might be an optimistic indication of the Ethiopia’s progression as a country and as a society—both economically and culturally. However, beyond the high rise buildings and bustling economy, one senses that the Ethiopia has a ways to go in ensuring the influx of capital flooding the country is benefiting everyday Ethiopians.
On a typical Addis Ababa street, there are countless beggars, street kids and destitute refugees from every corner of Ethiopia. Most migrated to Addis from the rural areas of Ethiopia looking for employment opportunities, while others have come dreaming of the unlikely possibility of finding prosperity. During the day, most wonder this big and prosperous city looking for opportunities, at night, there are thousands of young girls who are forced into a life of prostitution in order to survive. For too many women, the younger they are, the more desirable they are in a profession that the United Nations describes as the worst form of child labor in the world. I had a chance to speak to some of these young children on a visit to Ethiopia during an outing in the super-busy and crowded shantytown neighborhood widely known as Chechnya. True to its nickname, the area fits all the stereotypical characterizations of the Chechen Republic, where the name Chechnya originates from.
Since its independence from Russia in 1991, the Republic of Chechnya has waged war through guerrilla raids that have been lethal to its poverty stricken population. This area is impoverished,
cheap and full of young adolescent prostitutes, wearing make-up that makes them look far older than their actual age. As I stroll along the street and wander into one of the bars, I meet a young girl who invites herself to sit nearby and instantly engages me in a conversation. It seems she is looking to make fast money from a stranger she has never met. Her name is Senait, and at 16 years of age, she is a veteran of the business. Tall, attractive and beautiful, she has been on the streets for four long years selling her body for easy money. She tells me she is from Nazareth and came to Addis four years ago hoping to be a model, an actress or a movie producer. She wants to be a millionaire and open a modeling agency by the time she is 20. She is a wishful, child-like and innocent dreamer—the same dreams that most of these young children share. As I ask her questions, she demands to know if I am a police officer and then asks me how much I would be paying that she thinks I am there to solicit sex.
In this non-descript bar that is typical of Chechnya, there are customers from almost all walks of life. There are the typical local businessmen as well as tourists who are looking to be pampered. In the bar that Senait works, there are white faces with their Ethiopian translators nearby, proudly negotiating sex on their behalf. The Chinese denizen is there as well, drinking in groups and
enjoying the moment. As Senait loses her patience with me and gets a sense that I am not there for the same reason that many of the patrons of the bar are, I decided to give her 200 birr in order to hear of her life story and to get a sense of the underworld of Addis that few talk about but many know exists. It saddened me to see someone who should be in high school revert to this lifestyle.
As we are talking, I cannot help but notice a big scar around her neck. She tells me of the time she had just come from Nazareth at the age of 12 all by herself. Jumping from bar to bar looking for
customers, she was often beaten by pimps and street kids for whatever money she had made. As the waiter constantly returns to our table, hoping to take our orders, Senait communicates with the
staff through facial expression as if the waiter and Senait had a tacit agreement. The establishment exploits these girls as much as the “regulars” do— the only loser in the end is the innocence of the young girls.
In the end, after Senait realizes that I am not there for the reasons expected, she negotiates a deal and leaves the establishment with an aging foreigner. I traveled to this part of town wanting to get a sense of what drove teenage girls into a life of bondage and prostitution but in the end I could not overcome the sense of remorse I felt—I felt like a detached observer powerless to change the trajectory of these girls. I talked to another girl who only gave me her first name. She stated her name as Hiwot, only 19 he seems aged by the experiences of her life. She tells me that her journey started in Gonder and that she traveled to Addis over a year ago. Her ultimate hope was to eventually move to the State of Israel and join her extended family members. However, she lost contact with them and looked for a well-paying job around Addi. Without an adequate preparation; she was unsuccessful and was forced to turn to the streets in order to survive. She told me that she would be lucky to make 1,800 birr ($100) in a given night but typically she makes 800 birr. Many potential patrons ignore her for the most part and scout for the younger girls. I thank her for taking the time to share her story; I felt like giving her a word of encouragement and telling her to do something else in life. But to Hiwot, and too many other girls, the lack of meaningful opportunities meant that the profession they practice chose them instead of the other way around.
According to the UNAIDS office, there are millions of young girls that are currently living with HIV around many parts of Ethiopia. Among African countries, Ethiopia ranks as a country that has the third highest number of infections. Ethiopia spends only $5.60 compared to US $12.00 that other African countries spend on health care. Ethiopia has an average annual income of less than $100 US (about 1,800 birr) per year. While Ethiopia continues to develop at a good clip, there needs to be a greater attention placed on ameliorating the plight of the impoverished so that young girls like Senait and Hiwot do not have to turn to prostitution and can instead have a life of opportunity.
The story of young children such as Hiwot and Senait reflect the story, struggle and aspiration of many young children all around Addis. More than 85 % of Ethiopians live in the rural areas of Ethiopia and come to the capital looking for a better opportunity and too many end up scarred by the experiences they go through.
As I left Chechnya, the irony could not get out of my head; Hiwot’s name means life, I wondered what the life of Hiwot would be like beyond her present circumstance. Life is sometimes a choice, but too often in a sector of Ethiopia called “Chechnya”, a lack of choice and opportunities leads to a life sentence for too many young girls.
Written By: Samuel Getachew