Ethiopian NGO Fights Child Prostitution

By Ghion Hagos, Panafrican News Agency, 6 April 2000

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA)—The commercial exploitation of children in Ethiopia mainly involves them in the sex trade such as prostitution, according to the director of a local NGO working in support of disadvantaged children in Addis Ababa from such abuses and exploitation.

Children are not only sexually abused, but there is also a profit arising from the transaction where the child is considered a sexual and commercial object, Fassil Wolde-Mariam, director of Forum On Street Children in Ethiopia, told PANA.

The Forum is an umbrella organisation fighting against the worst forms of child labour in the country, Fassil said.

He said child prostitution and sexual exploitation in Ethiopia, as in other African and Third World countries, are rooted in extreme poverty. As a market element is involved in the supply and demand of child sex, Fassil pointed out that there are factors that aggravate the supply.

Among these, he cited the economic condition in rural areas where poverty is much more rampant, rural to urban migration, early marriages that end up in divorce, loose social values in extended families in care and support of children, and family disintegration due to the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and other problems.

Fassil’s agency was among 81 organisations that set up in September 1999 the NGO with the objective of fighting the worst forms of child abuse—the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youths in the country.

The Forum last week held its second meeting in Addis Ababa, devoted to the exchange of experience among 50 organisations that participated, representing local and international NGOs under the auspices of the International Labour Organisation and UNICEF.

During the Forum’s day-long meeting on 30 March, it was agreed to strengthen the forum’s steering committee, which co-ordinates the efforts of member organisations for efficient utilisation of resources and greater effectiveness to meet the needs of street children in Ethiopia.

Fassil stated that problems of child prostitution in Ethiopia are further aggravated by the negative attitude the general public and different sectors of society have towards these children.

In this regard, he said the areas of concern of his agency range from advocacy, civic education through public awareness to pilot and model children support projects and a child resources development centre, entailing research, training and documentation for networking.

He explained what his agency has been doing since its establishment in 1991 by a group of 12 like-minded young Ethiopian professional psychologists, sociologists and social workers.

We were all concerned about the problems of the ever-increasing number of street children in Addis Ababa, he said.

Fassil, 39, is a sociologist. He was working with Save The Children-USA in Ethiopia when he decided to join in late 1995 the Forum which he helped to found, as a full-time executive director.

The Forum at present runs two projects on preventive and support programmes for sexually abused and exploited children in Addis Ababa.

These are intended to enable the children to defend themselves from abuses and health risks through information and counselling on HIV/AIDS and help them develop risk education behaviour, he said.

A Drop-In Centre, which was opened four years ago, caters for 100 child prostitutes by providing them daily services such as counselling, informal education and preventive and curative health services.

They are allowed to remain at this day-care centre until they show behavioural change from their child- prostitution predicament, he said.

The other is a safe-home programme which was opened a year ago. It is a boarding facility that protects the child-prostitute from physical and sexual abuse at night and provides her with a conducive environment for a chance to change her life-style and become self-supportive.

Here the children are provided with counselling services, skills training and some stipend to prepare their own food, Fassil said. Once they complete training, our organisation finds them placements to enable them to become gainfully employed.

Fassil declined to give figures on the number of street children in Ethiopia, nor the numbers of those involved in commercial sex work.

It is not the numbers that matter but what local and international NGOs and others concerned can do to help as many children as they can from their predicament.

The Forum is part of a world-wide effort to End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography And Trafficking (ECPAT). The first international assembly of ECPAT was held in September 1999 in Bangkok, Thailand.

Fassil was appointed at this assembly as member of ECPAT representing Africa in his capacity as director of Forum.