Feature: Systematically smuggled and abused: Victims of child trafficking crowd streets of Addis Abeba

By Getahun Legesse @Birmaduu2

Addis Abeba – Abraham Abebe is only eight-years old; he was sitting on a pavement in Piassa at a specific place known as Arada in the capital Addis Abeba next to an electronic weight scale, and playing with himself.

Abraham is one of the ever increasing numbers of kids who are systematically trafficked to Addis Abeba from Wolaita zone in the Southern Nations Nationalities and people’s (SNNP) region. When trafficked, the kids are made to believe their journey is in search of a better life. Once in Addis Abeba, however, Abraham, like many others, was apprenticed by an adult to work on a weight scale on the side of the streets and generate money.

Explaining how he came to Addis Abeba Abraham said, “I came to Addis Abeba before a month. My friends told me that I would get a well paying job,” he said.

Teddy Tesfaye is another kid doing the same job as Abraham, and only 12 years old. Teddy says life back home was difficult that he decided to leave his birth place. “It is really difficult to get a job back home. We do not have plot of land to farm,” he said, adding that his families were unable to send him to school due to economic hardships.

Like Abraham and Teddy, there are many more under age children in different neighborhoods of the city deployed on different jobs. Addis Standard has observed these children in Piassa, Megenagna, CMC Michael, and Bole among other areas in Addis Ababa. The majority of them are from the SNNP region, particularly form the Wolaita zone.

According to a 2018 research by Yishak Gecho and Asrat Worku of the Department of Rural Development and Agricultural Extension, College of Agriculture, Wolaita Sodo University, on Child Trafficking in the Case of Wolaita Zone, “More strongly than other areas, child trafficking is a serious problems in Wolaita zone. Traffickers use various means and routes to transport children to different places, especially to urban areas.”

Yishak and Asrat’s research reveals that the large proportion (57.8%) of the surveyed children reported that poor economic condition of their family is a major factor which facilitates the processes. “Poverty is responsible for driving children out of their rural communities to migrate to urban slums and force the children out on to streets, it also makes them prone to be fallen in the hands of cruel child traffickers.”

A sign of things unchanged, or worse, in recent weeks, Addis Standard spoke to dozens of such children who say they have left their parents behind and relocated to Addis Abeba to start a job with a promising pay.

Once in Addis Abeba, however, they will be given different jobs and work for someone else who may pay them little money for their labor, or not. They have “fallen in the hands of cruel child traffickers.”

“It is really sad to see these children being abused as such. Apart from labor exploitation, they are vulnerable to further crimes such sexual abuse

Emebet Girma

Abraham told Addis Standard that he works on the weight scale to generate money for its owner. He collects a maximum of ETB30 (less than $50 cent) per day from customers who use the weight scale he has in front of him. Of of this, the owner of the weight scale pays him a very small amount, or not. During the day and while at work, they often “eat leftover food we receive from restaurants for lunch, and we sometimes sleep without food as we may not get dinner,” Abraham said, indicating that the “employers” do not cover their meals.

What is worse, Abraham and his friends spend the nights crammed in one room, which is located in Yeka sub-city in an area commonly known as Ferensay Legasion.

There is one thing these children share in common: they don’t openly talk about the involvement of adults (human traffickers) in their journey from their birthplaces to the sprawling city of Addis Abeba.

Emebet Girma, a shop owner in Piassa, has regular contacts with Abraham and other children as they spend their day near her shop. “It is really sad to see these children being abused as such. Apart from labor exploitation, they are vulnerable to further crimes such sexual abuse. It is really tough to tell what might have happened to these kids,” Emebet told Addis Standard. “I usually see them standing before hotels in [groups] waiting to receive leftover food. And I am not sure of where they spend the night. I see some of the children sleeping in the street.”

To make matters worse, many of them have lost contacts with their parents after they arrived in the capital. A terrified Biniam is one of them. Only eight years old, and sitting next to a weight scale in Lemi-Kura sub-city around CMC Michael area in Addis Abeba, Biniam was too scared to respond to questions as he fears reprisal from someone observing his activities from afar.

Zonal administration knows the rising crisis

Tsegaye Kelta, communications director of Wolaita zone, told Addis Standard that the zonal administration knows the rising crisis and was conducting investigations. He admits that the children were misled by human traffickers who promise them a better job in Addis Abeba.

There are human traffickers who have been arrested and brought before court. Legal actions are being taken against them.”

Tsegaye Kelta

“There are human traffickers who have been arrested and brought before court. Legal actions are being taken against them. We have also heightened regulations to control children’s mobility out of the zone,” Tsegaye added.

“Parents and the children are not well aware of the pros and cons of migration,” Tsegaye said, adding that, the zonal administration, in collaboration with some non-profit organizations, has been working to educate the community about human trafficking. However, he said that “it is wrong to present as if all of them are from Wolaita. Migration is everywhere in the country, and Wolaita is not an exception,” he added.

Focus group participants who were recently interviewed about community mobilization to prevent the problem emphasize the crucial role such works play. The Women’s and Children’s Office in Sodo city, the administrative capital of Wolaita zone, had been working on community mobilization and had organized child rights committees in 11 kebeles of the city. But one of the problems identified is that “members of the community are said to be unwilling to participate,” which indicates both at the continuation of the crisis and the complexities surrounding it.

In May last year, the Silte Zone Police in SNNP, said that its forces have arrested nine suspected human traffickers who were caught while smuggling 19 children from Sodo city, to the capital Addis Abeba. The police acted following community tip-offs in Worabe city after the trafficking victims screamed for help, the police said. The nine suspected traffickers, who were all women, were then intercepted in Sano kebelle.

According to Tsegaye, while the majority of the children are systematically trafficked by human smugglers, some of them are forced to flee their area to escape the economic hardships. Still others are smuggled by friends and family members without the consent of their parents.

Addis Abeba Women, Youth and Children Bureau and Addis Abeba Police Commission have been unresponsive to Addis Standard’s repeated request for information. AS

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