Human trafficking is a heinous crime that violates human rights and dignity globally. In 2016 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) disclosed that no nation is free from this crisis. Recent reports indicate that domestic and international trafficking is prevalent in Ethiopia.
What is Human trafficking?
The U.N. defines human trafficking as "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation." In other words, human trafficking is modern-day slavery, and it hides in plain sight. It is the fastest and most profitable criminal activity in the world. Victims are exploited in many ways, such as sexual exploitation, forced labor, debt bondage, child soldiers, adoption of kidnapped kids, forced marriage, begging, organ removal, and much more.
Traffickers are well-organized and master manipulators that can recognize vulnerable individuals with ease. A trafficker can be a male or female, local criminals, kidnappers, relatives, friends, and the victim themselves. Some traffickers are well educated, no criminal history, and even have substantial income. Victims can become traffickers because they are trying to cut a deal for their freedom or due to Stockholm Syndrome (a psychological phenomenon in which victims feel an attachment to their perpetrator).
Ethiopia and Transnational trafficking
Transnational trafficking is the recruitment of human beings for their country of origin and trafficked in a foreign county. A significant number of Ethiopians have fell victim to international trafficking due to irregular migration. Countless Ethiopians undertaking perilous journey via Eastern route (through Djibouti, Somaliland, Puntland, and Yemen into Saudi Arabia, Gulf Countries, and the Middle East), Northern route (transits through Sudan, Egypt, and Libya onward into Europe crossing the Mediterranean Sea) and Southern route transits through Kenya, Tanzania, and other African countries onward to South Africa (Woldemichael Z.S., 2017). These routes are full of risk of abuse, torture, sexual assault, and it provides ample "supply" for traffickers. Usually, people consent to travel these routes for a better life but end up in precarious situations where their consent and dignity do not matter.
Poverty is one of the driving factors for many Ethiopians to undertake these dangerous routes. There are reports of irregular migrants dying from heat exhaustion, hungry and abuse; in many cases, the bodies left there at the mercy of the sun. Some Ethiopians have some awareness of danger, but the feeling hopeless to succeed in Ethiopia forces them to migrate. Social factors contribute to their decision-making; seeing their neighbors' lives change dramatically after working abroad and is seen as a symbol of status.
The majority of the irregular migrants are from rural areas without enough money to pursue a legal path to work abroad. Rural residents are at a higher risk of being trafficked than urban dwellers. "For urban residents, it is easier to get information about how and where to get safer jobs that minimize their exploitation. The bureaucratic process for legal immigration would also be easier for urban residents than rural ones due to their proximity to government offices that process immigration requirements or documents" (Gezie, L.D., Yalew, A.W. & Gete, Y.K., 2019).
Most traffickers target rural residents because they are easily deceived and prefer a swift migration path. But the reality that awaits them is a nightmare; the false and seductive promise of a better life lures them into slavery.
Recently, Kenya's government disclosed that the majority of convicted traffickers were citizens of Ethiopia and Somalia. And South Africa has reported that Ethiopian nationals comprise 19% of identified victims of human trafficking. Many Ethiopians face abuse from their employers, police officers and are vulnerable to sex trafficking in Middle Eastern countries.
Kassach is a survivor of human trafficking and shared her story with Hope for Children Organization. She recounts being abducted at the age of 12 and forced to marry an older man. After multiple attempts, she managed to escape seeking a better life and education. She got married again and had two children, but the marriage did not last. After her divorce, she was desperate to earn a living and provide for her children. Seduced with the hope of better opportunities, she migrated to Sudan and then Kuwait. For nine months, she was exploited as a domestic maid working around the clock, but her employer refused to pay her. The employer understood she lacked the proper documentation to work, so she was an easy target to exploit. Finally, she demanded payment but was dragged to the police station. She was incarcerated, denied food for two days, and then drugged and repeatedly gang-raped by police officers. Eventually, the police officers dumped her at a shelter managed by the Ethiopian Embassy in Kuwait. She was pregnant and suffering from severe internal physical injuries and suicidal tendencies. After rehabilitation, she is a proud mother of two older children and her beautiful baby boy. Now, She is an educator at AGAR, a rehabilitation center for victims of human trafficking who require psychiatric support. Kassach is a survival story, but many do not make it alive to tell their story or are battling social stigma from their community.
Human trafficking within Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, domestic forced labor and sex trafficking are prevalent. In vast cases, the victims are from impoverished rural areas and trafficked to urban cities like Addis Ababa. Women and girls are greatly affected due to gender discrimination, poverty, environmental factors, political instability, and much more.
Walk Free Foundation estimates that more than 614,000 Ethiopian are enslaved. And "upwards of 20,000 Ethiopian children, some as young as 10, are sold by their parents, according to Humanium, a children's charity" (Gardner, 2017).
Thousands of young girls leave their families to work as domestic maids for fair pay and education. But in reality, they are fed little and face abuse at the hands of their employers. Even though under Ethiopian law, children under the age of 15 cannot engage in wage labor. In Ethiopia, domestic works are females and as young as 11 years old; this is due to girls being regarded as a financial burden and forced to work as maids.
Embet was 11 years old girl from a small town in the Amhara region and lured by her neighbor to Addis Ababa to work as a maid at her neighbor's relatives. She was promised 200 Ethiopian birrs a month and education. Her employer never sent her to school or paid her; she was feed little and kept in conditions comparable to slavery.
A study done in Ethiopia showed that traffickers could exploit females for a more extended period due to the nature of their work, which is mainly housemaids, limiting their freedom of movement. As a result, they do not have much interaction with others to get help or know how to get out of exploitation (Gezie, L.D., Yalew, A.W. & Gete, Y.K., 2019).
While there are broad legislation and initiatives to combat human trafficking in Ethiopia, it is still widespread. Many factors hinder implementation and enforcement, such as financial and capacity constraints, ineffective coordination between the regional and federal government, conflicts, feeble data collection capacity, and inadequate health workers' training.
Ethiopia has made efforts to address human trafficking by passing a wide range of legislations. There have been campaigns to create awareness about human trafficking with the cooperation of several NGOs. But there needs to be increasing research and training efforts to combat human trafficking—the engagement of civil society and interdisciplinary studies to understand the complexity of this crisis within Ethiopia.
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