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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Ethiopian girls driven to prostitution
By Damian Zane
BBC, Addis Ababa

Everyday about 10,000 people pass through the cross-country bus station in the Ethiopian capital to visit relatives, do business or simply search for a better life.

HIV/Aids campaign poster at a bus stop in Addis Ababa
Poster: 'Let's protect ourselves wherever we go'
And it is at the bus station where many young girls get drawn into prostitution.

According to a recent survey carried out in Addis Ababa, child prostitution is on the rise.

The report found that partly because of poverty an increasing number of girls come to the city to become sex workers.

Urban migration

The government, being a signatory to the charter on child rights as well as various international labour conventions, is obliged to wipe out what is considered by the United Nations to be the worst form of child labour.

Some clients assume that children between the age of 13 and 14 are free from HIV infection
Amara Dejene

Child Aid Ethiopia (Chadet) is one of the few charities dealing with child prostitution.

Chadet's director Anania Admasu says that many of these girls migrate from rural areas to urban centres in search of better opportunities.

"But not all of them have a chance to track down their relatives, so they end up in the hands of people who take them to the pimps who promise to find them a job," says Mr Admasu.

Just a few hundred metres from the bus station a group of teenagers are playing table tennis at a drop-in centre run by Chadet.

Vulnerable

Here the charity encourages what it considers to be vulnerable youngsters, to relax, use the library, have a shower and get free counselling.

Mekdas Demasay
Poverty pushes many Ethiopian teenage girls into prostitution

Children who may be at risk of becoming prostitutes, as well as young girls who are already prostitutes, come to the centre.

Chadet tries to offer alternatives. Eighteen-year old Mekdas Demasay, after coming to the centre, has now turned her back on commercial sex work.

But she says that it was poverty which forced her into prostitution three years ago.

"There were many of us in my family and after the death of both my parents we had nothing to eat and I had no choice but get into prostitution," says Ms Demasay.

'Morally degrading'

Being a prostitute meant having sex with many men and I found that morally degrading and damaging to my dignity, she says.

Anania Admasu
Mr Admasu says many rural girls end up as sex workers in Addis Ababa

Poverty may be pushing children into prostitution, but according to Amara Dejene who researched the issue, there is also an increased demand for children because of HIV-Aids.

"Some clients assume that children between the age of 13 and 14 are free from HIV infection - and so prefer to have sex with them instead of the older women," says Amara Dejene.

At the drop-in centre, a young girl leads a group counselling session about HIV.

Counselling

Sister Mebrat Yemeruw is the nurse in charge of the counselling, she says that the emphasis is on making young girls better informed, but she never tells people not to be prostitutes.

"I cannot say that because we can't give them food, clothes and accommodation.

HIV/Aids campaign poster at a bus stop in Addis Ababa
Poster: 'Aids orphans need our support'

"But we explain to them the side effects of prostitution and leave them to choose what they want," says Sister Yemeruw.

Ms Demasay can be considered one of Chadet's success stories.

Instead of being a sex worker she now gets a grant from the charity that has helped her open a small tea-shop, as well as continue schooling.

She also works as a counsellor talking to other vulnerable girls.

"I say to teenagers that they are very young and I say that they can't sleep with too many boys," says Demasay.

Alternatives

She explains to the youngsters about the problems of HIV/Aids, the risk of becoming pregnant, which their bodies could not cope with, and to look for alternatives.

But it really is not that simple.

Mekdas is just one of 29 girls out of just over 100 prostitutes that Chadet is working with who have found alternatives.

Nevertheless, Chadet is not giving up and using songs and drama, the charity takes its message on to the streets to try and stop young people turning to prostitution.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Ethiopia
27 May 03  |  Country profiles


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