Today marks the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Human Trafficking is an atrocious crime, which violates the basic rights and dignities that must be protected for all. Ethiopia is one of the many countries in the world that has been gravely affected by human trafficking. In 2012, the Ethiopian government enshrined its commitment to protect citizens from trafficking with Proclamation No. 909/2015: The Prevention and Suppression of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Proclamation. According to an article from the Hasanuddin Law Review , this Proclamation is Ethiopia’s most comprehensive law addressing human trafficking. Despite this commitment on paper, human trafficking continues to be a prevalent issue, which particularly affects low-income women and girls.
In solidarity with all those who are affirming the essential work of first responders who provide support services for survivors of human trafficking, SIHA Network would like to spotlight the work of Good Samaritan Association (GSA). GSA is an association based in Ethiopia, whose activities focus on supporting and assisting low-income women and girls who are survivors of human trafficking. GSA reports that it is often difficult for people to recognize traffickers, because they cannot be reduced to a single stereotypical appearance or demographic category. Traffickers use a number of different tricks and strategies, including the use of very ‘normal people’ as the first point of contact to trap, recruit, or force people into being trafficked.
Many women and girls from Ethiopia who migrate in search of employment become trafficked into labor conditions to which they did not consent. Some of the women who have received support from GSA have shared accounts of their own experiences with migration and trafficking:
“I started thinking of migrating to Sudan when I saw that my friends who went there in search of a better life were successful and they were sending money to help better their family’s life. I found that appealing so I sold my father’s Ox and called a friend to get a broker’s number. Soon after, I met the broker and he told me to bring him 30,000 birr. I went to Addis Ababa, where the broker lived, and gave him 30,000 birr. He took me from Addis Ababa to Gondar-Metema, then Gedarf where we rested. During the trip we were given biscuits and water once daily. I felt sick and the journey was exhausting. Finally, we reached Sudan and stayed at the broker’s house for 4 days. He would take two people at a time and get them hired. I was employed at a house with 5 kids. He did not inform me about my salary. I had no idea how much I would earn.”
“The decision to migrate to the Middle East was more than a decision to seek better employment but to also realize my dream of becoming a runner. “
“Before my life as “migrant” I wasn’t unhappy. On the day I was supposed to leave the country, my friend who escorted me to the airport, introduced me to a man who I would come to know was an agent. My first employment was in a large house with 10 rooms, all of which I was expected to clean on a daily basis. Food was not provided, nor did I get enough sleep, at which point I got sick. At this point I had already kept my promise to my friend and paid her the money in full. I also tried to get her help regarding my situation, but she disappeared. After two months of suffering and exhausting all my possible options I was unable to continue and so I ran away.”
In addition to the search for economic opportunities, migrant women and girls report push factors such as exposure to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), harassment from family members, and peer pressure. These push factors result from institution, structural, and socio-political systems, which trap women and girls in positions that are particularly vulnerable to poverty, harassment, and violence. Human trafficking in Ethiopia has evolved into an organized and lucrative system. Traffickers have developed strategies for recruiting family members, women, teachers, government officials, and others. Often these recruited points of contact who assist traffickers are tricked into believing that what they are helping women and girls escape from poverty. In some cases, high payouts keep people from asking too many questions. According to GSA Director, Hirut Yibabe, the styles and approaches traffickers implement vary depending on the context. In cities and in schools, they typically approach young women posing as someone who wants help them, luring them with a fake promise of a better life. Whereas in rural areas, it might be the women themselves who approach the brokers or family members like uncles that are active players in the smuggling process. Traffickers have also been reported to point to the few returnee women who gained wealth from their work abroad in order to convince new recruits. Sometimes partners will agree between each other that the woman will go and work so that when she comes back the couple can build a better life. There have even been reports of men telling their lactating wives to the child and instead go out to make money for the family.
“They do not see the ones that died as a result of trafficking. There is a saying ‘it is either a box of money or a box of corpses.’”
Gaps in implementation and enforcement of the law also contribute to the high prevalence of trafficking in Ethiopia. There are reports of traffickers escaping accountability by bribing officials and returning to commit the same crimes without fear of arrest. One individual whose wife was trafficked to Saudi Arabia says ‘the traffickers are everywhere in the village and they have connections in major towns until you reach the sea and in Addis they are stationed in Merkato. They have a web, everyone knows they exist, it is not a secret, but they are normal people who live in our midst, even if we wanted to go and know the way, we cannot go anywhere, the local officials know and they get paid by them. When they get caught, they move to a different place, we know that the place they take us to is mini hell but we already live in the hell of poverty so we take it, they say those of us who return from these Arab countries are insane.”
GSA has been able to support survivors of human trafficking in pragmatic ways by providing temporary shelter, accommodating basic needs, providing counseling, availing seed money, and partnering with local authorities in acquisition of working spaces along with other returnees. Several of these survivors wanted to share pieces of their stories and comment on the impact GSA has made in their lives:
“By the time I was rescued by the IOM, I was already suffering from mental health problems. During my stay there I was provided with counseling, food, and shelter services. I was also able to regain my physical as well mental stability back and see my family again due to the support I got from the center. “
“I couldn’t imagine where I would end up right now if there were no organizations like these. I would have lived on the streets and be a beggar. During my stay at the GSA Shelter, I was provided with counseling, food, medical treatment and shelter services.”
“It’s been 6 months since I have returned, I am very thankful that I have survived, but I am scared to go back home without money. Nonetheless, GSA provided me with the necessary support to purchase livestock as a means of livelihood and also paid for my child’s driver license school.”
During the current global pandemic crisis, GSA is one of the leading local associations making impactful contributions to the fight against human trafficking and providing essential support to survivors. GSA’s contributions must be complimented by collective and committed efforts from diverse actors at multiple levels. From community development, to awareness raising, to economic empowerment, to setting up school clubs, to implementing legal frameworks that protect citizens and equally, the prevalence of human trafficking must be combatted on many level at once. An intricate and comprehensive strategy that addresses the root causes of human trafficking must be developed and implemented in collaboration with women from the grassroots and organizations that engage in activism on women’s rights.
- The Ethiopian government should design effective mechanisms to break the chains of human traffickers by working in collaboration with civil society and the grassroots community. These mechanisms must be complimented by vigorous survivor-rights advocacy and awareness campaigns that are community-centered and developed in partnership with women’s rights and community-based organizations.
- The living conditions and economic opportunities available to women and girls must be improved and negative gender-based norms, practices, and beliefs must be changed if we are to see a decline in human trafficking.
- The international community should invest further in ensuring that their efforts to end human trafficking coordinate with local governments and grassroots communities, making space for women’s groups to influence strategy and implementation.
- Law enforcement should ensure that no one is given impunity for human trafficking crimes, whether they are individuals citizens or government officials.
- The Ethiopian government should build the capacity of local organizations that specifically work hard to combat trafficking by giving them working space for free, training, and financial support.
- School curricula both at secondary and tertiary level should include training on identifying human trafficking and how to report this information.
 Zelalem Shiferaw Woldemichael. 2017. “Prevention of Human Trafficking in Ethiopia: Assessing The Legal Framework.” Hasanuddin Law Review 3 (3): 208–17.