The streets of Addis Ababa are filthy and chaotic; choked with litter and lined by ditches filled with everything from dirty dishwater to human waste.
It has been more than two years since I was driven through Ethiopia’s capital city but I can still clearly recall the multitudes lining the streets. Sitting, lying, walking; they are the vast and thriving subculture that is a street-dwelling homeless population of staggering proportions. Most seem to be going nowhere in particular, the sum of their existence being what they carry with them and in the place along the curb where they stop.
More than one lay prostrate, contorted, unmoving. The fate that awaits us all eventually has come sooner to these victims of an unsuccessful attempt to eek out an existence in a harsh and unforgiving land. I can’t help but wonder what their last thoughts must have been, caught up as they were in the unimaginable tragedy of dying alone on the street, the epitome of hopelessness.
Today, more than 40,000 young girls in Addis Ababa will be forced to sell their bodies to survive.
Every day scores of Ethiopian children leave their homes and migrate to the capital city. Some, hoping to escape the crushing cycle of poverty, come looking for education and job opportunities. Some are driven from their homes by famine and drought while others leave willingly to escape early marriage or abusive relationships. Still others are seeking to be free from exploitative labor. Sadly, instead of finding a better life, the girls in particular, too often become prey to sex traffickers who offer them what appear to be legitimate money making opportunities.
Once entrapped, the girls, most ranging in age from 9-18, are locked in hovels hardly bigger than the size of the cot or mat on which they sleep. Nothing more than slaves, their lives become a living hell as, night after night, they are forced to sexually service as many adult male clients as possible. Sometimes a dozen or more.
Unfortunately, these girls have little choice but to remain enslaved for, once victimized, they are ostracized. Rejected by their society, their family, and their friends they lose all hope of ever having a normal, productive life.
Commercial sexual exploitation is on the rise in both rural and urban Ethiopia.
But there is hope. It comes in the form of a man with a mission. His name is Pat Bradley and his organization is International Crisis Aid (www.crisisaid.org). His objective is to free as many girls from Ethiopia’s sex trade as possible. His solution? Go to the Red Light District... and buy a brothel.
Find out how a house of unspeakable horrors becomes a place of limitless hope in Part 2 of Brothel of Hope: The Mercy Chapel
Author of Where There Is No Comfort: Seven Days in Ethiopia