This is a part from the article by Yelibenwork Ayele Slavery in Ethiopia
Since the inquiry into child trafficking conducted so far in Ethiopia is inadequate, and because of the clandestine nature of the operation, it is difficult to put the exact figures of victims. That the network of child trafficking is too complicated within the country coupled with the inability of children to protest about the crime perpetrated against them and socities’ silence about what goes on right under their nose have kept the issue a secret for long.
Mahider Bitew, Children’s Rights and Protection expert at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, says that some isolated studies conducted in Diredawa, Shashemene, Awassa and three other towns of the country indicate that the problem of child trafficking is very serious. According to a 2003 study about one thousand children were trafficked via Diredawa to countries of the Middle East. The majority of those children were girls, most of whom were forced to be sex workers after leaving the country. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has identified prostitution as the Worst Form of Child Labor.
In Ethiopia, children are trafficked into prostitution, to provide cheap or unpaid labor and to work as domestic servants or beggars. The ages of these children are usually between 10 and 18 and their trafficking is from the country to urban centers and from cities to the country. Boys are often expected to work in activities like herding cattle in rural areas and in the weaving industry in Addis Ababa and other major towns. Girls are expected to take responsibilities for domestic chores, childcare and looking after the sick and to work as prostitutes.
“Unfortunately, in the exercise of smuggling and trafficking, the preferred candidates have been girls and women as they can easily be put to prostitution, pornography and sexual exploitation…,” said Proffesor Alpha Omar Konare,
Chairperson of the African Union Commission speaking last Saturday at the commemoration of the Day of the African Child.
Poverty, says Mahider, is one of the causes of child trafficking. Parents participate in child trafficking by sending their children to other towns for good jobs so that the children could work and support themselves, or in some case their families as well. Some children fantasize about working and living a better life in other towns and grab the opportunity when it presents itself.
“In reality they are traded like commodities to work in brutal conditions and many children face beatings and other forms of physical and sexual abuse from their employers,” said Ann M.Veneman.
There are some parents who take the initiative in dealing with brokers to send their children for employment away from their home town. Such well-meaning parents are under the impression that their children will work under normal conditions, be fed properly and paid fairly.
Mahider believes that poverty is not a necessary cause of child trafficking. Not all the poor send there children away. There are some parents who have not enough to support their children yet refuse to send them away from home to work elsewhere in the country. “In contrast, there are children from well-to-do families that have fallen prey to trafficking to other countries. And there they are exposed to harsh, inhumane working conditions and even death.”
Girls brought from the country to cities are usually employed in households as domestic workers or in hotels as waitresses and sex workers. When they can not work any longer and are kicked out, they become street children. Those who move from Addis Ababa to smaller towns are employed in hotels only.
Mahider remembers what she saw in Arbaminch when she went there on a field trip.
“In a hotel where I took lodging, I saw very young girls from Addis Ababa. They were posted there to attract customers. And they were not paid by the hotel. But, if customers took them to bed in or elsewhere outside the hotel, the girls would have to pay the hotel for it.”
Boys who are trafficked from around Arbaminch to Addis Ababa are employed in the domestic weaving industry at Shiro Meda, where they work for long, long hours without the opportunity to play or go to school.
Article 36 of the Ethiopian constitution states that children have the right not to be subject to exploitative practices, neither to be required nor permitted to perform work which may be hazardous or harmful to their education, health or well-being.
And article 29 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which was adopted in 1990 and came to force in 1999, refers to child traffcking and calls on member states to take appropriate measures to prevent “the abduction, the sale of, or traffick in children for any purpose or in any form, by any person, including partners or legal guardians of the child”
Trafficking exposes children to violence, sexual abuse severe neglect and HIV infection. It violets their right to be protected, to grow up in a family environment, and to have access to education. It is a crime committed in defiance of both the constitution and the African charter on the rights and welfare of the child.
As the trafficking process involves a number of players, including, families, relatives, friends, recruiters, it has become difficult to identify perpetrators and traffickers and in the process they are left to continue to trade in human beings.
“Cooperation of the society, among whom trafficked children are employed with low enforcement bodies is crucial in preventing child trafficking. But, so far the society in general has been doing almost nothing to combat child trafficking,” said Mahider. For example, city dwellers’ demand for household workers is met by children trafficked from the country, these being much preferred to city children as they are strangers, have nowhere to go for a few years and are scared of what could become of them if they try to run away. Besides they are believed to be more faithful than city children.
So, city folk are in this way recipients of children from the country. “Even though we witness violence committed against children brought from the country and employed next door, we hardly report it to the police. We may observe something suspicious about children being transported from one city to another or within a city by men who do not look like their relatives, but act as if we never saw it. The crime is committed right under our nose,” said Mahder.
There are laws formulated and ILO conventions that Ethiopia has accepted and signed for the purpose of ensuring children’s rights are respected. “The Ethiopian government is working on a ten-year program for the implementation of the conventions. An action plan has been prepared and a national committee formed under the Ministry of Women’s Affairs entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the action plan.”
The committee is composed of governmental and non-governmental institutions. The ministry is going to start a national study on child trafficking next year and that is hoped to provide inputs for intervention, said Mahider.
Awareness raising activities are being carried out on radio programs by the Ministry. Mahider says that besides awareness raising, it is essential that opportunity be provided for children 14 years and upward from poor families to be employed in light works in their own localities as long as that does not get in the way of their education and harm them physically or psychologically.